One of the most highly publicized primaries of the 2022 campaign season looks like it might be headed for a recount.
Mehmet Oz leads David McCormick by barely 2,000 votes after Tuesday’s primary, putting the quack TV doctor who landed Trump’s endorsement early last month up by around 0.2 percentage points over the well-funded, establishment-backed businessman. The race heads to a recount if the margin winds up being smaller than 0.5 percentage points. The winner will take on John Fetterman, who demolished Rep. Conor Lamb in the the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Oz and McCormick had been battling for months, but neither candidate seemed to capture the hearts and minds of Pennsylvania’s voters, with Oz even drawing boos as Trump tried to promote him at a rally earlier this month. He and McCormick both came under fire for past positions that don’t jibe with the modern Republican Party — Oz supported gun control measures, for example, and McCormick supported inclusivity at his hedge fund — and neither have lived in Pennsylvania for very long. Their lackluster, attack-filled campaigns allowed far-right veteran and commentator Kathy Barnette to surge in the polls down the stretch, and the three were virtually tied heading into Tuesday.
Barnette’s rise drew intense scrutiny from the media, which has reported on her long history of anti-gay, anti-Muslim comments, as well as her presence in Washington, D.C., last Jan. 6. NBC News on Monday verified photos showing her marching to the Capitol alongside Proud Boys. CNN later reported she said she was bringing buses full of people to the rally, calling it “our 1776 moment.” Bret Baier of Fox News twice asked Barnette whether she breached the Capitol, and she twice didn’t deny that she did.
Regardless, Barnette floundered on Tuesday, finishing well behind both Oz and McCormick.
The circus-like nature of the race made for an amusing split throughout conservative media and within Trump’s circle. Sean Hannity dutifully lined up behind Oz, giving him plenty of airtime while attacking Barnette, even bashing her for marching on Jan. 6, something he and Fox News as a whole have spent the past year-plus trying to cast as no big deal. McCormick made plenty of appearances on the network, as well, and had backers like Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and others who once worked for the former president.
Oz, McCormick, and Barnette all pledged their allegiance to Trump, but the Republican establishment backed McCormick largely because it believed he had the best chance to win the general election. Trump disagreed, citing Oz’s TV presence. “He has lived with us through the screen and has always been popular, respected and smart,” Trump said in endorsing him. (Trump initially backed Sean Parnell, but Parnell suspended his campaign last November following a custody battle in which his wife accused him of strangling her and abusing their children.)
Trump also split with the party in endorsing QAnon-tied state Sen. Doug Mastriano for governor, who campaigned with and endorsed Barnette. Republicans were convinced Mastriano wouldn’t stand a chance against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro in the general election, with even Hannity reportedly trying to steer Trump away from him. The former president wasn’t deterred, and it isn’t a huge surprise why. “There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more, or fought harder, for Election Integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano,” Trump wrote in a statement. Mastriano, like Barnette, was in Washington supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results last Jan. 6.
Trump got his way on Tuesday — at least partially. Mastriano won big, and hope is still alive for the Pennsylvanians dreaming of all the good a Trump-loving TV doctor can do for them should Oz make it to Washington. “You never want to let your people down,” he said as part of his closing pitch on Monday, “When you go to bed at night and put your head on that soft pillow, you know Oz will be doing exactly what you’d want him to do if you were there next to him.”