Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary is headed for a recount after celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund director Dave McCormick finished in a near tie in the May 17 contest.
Acting Pennsylvania secretary of State Leigh Chapman made the announcement Wednesday, noting that the margin between the two candidates was just 902 votes after all of Pennsylvania’s counties reported their unofficial results to the state on Tuesday – within the 0.5% automatic recount threshold. Chapman reported that Oz, who was backed by former President Donald Trump, had 419,365 votes and McCormick had 418,463 votes. The state’s results page does not currently match those totals.
McCormick, as the second highest vote-getter, could have chosen to waive his right to a recount but decided not to. Counties can begin the recount as early as Friday but must begin no later than June 1. Counties must finish counting by noon on June 7 and submit their results by noon on June 8.
The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in one of the nation’s marquee Senate races of this year’s midterm elections. Republicans view holding on to the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey as key to their hopes of capturing the Senate majority, while Democrats see flipping seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, both states carried by now-President Joe Biden in 2020, as the best way to gird against losses elsewhere.
Automatic recount process
This is the seventh time an automatic recount has been triggered in Pennsylvania since 2004 when the provision was added. There have only been three recounts, though, since the other three were waived. The three recounts that have occurred didn’t change the results of the elections.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 65 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties had reported a number of undated or incorrectly dated ballots. Chapman said there are 860 Republican ballots that are either undated or wrongly dated. Lawsuits are pending in the state to determine whether those ballots should be added to the total count. The Department of State has advised counties to segregate those ballots and count them separately while the cases work their way through the judicial system.
“Our position is that undated and incorrectly dated ballots should count,” Chapman said. “To be clear, our guidance will enable counties to arrive at an accurate count no matter what the courts decide.”
In the recount process, county boards of elections must count the ballots using a different device than the one used in the initial tabulation or the ballots can be counted by hand.
A contentious primary
Oz’s campaign was bolstered by an endorsement from Trump, who campaigned for him days before the primary. But the swell of votes from Trump supporters could have been tempered by the rise of conservative activist Kathy Barnette, who finished in a strong third place with about 25% of the vote after running a campaign built largely around the former President’s causes and grievances.
Oz faced attacks over his reversals on abortion rights, which he once said he supported and now says he opposes, and his Turkish citizenship and service in the Turkish military.
“This is an area where I think Mehmet is absolutely compromised – because while I was serving Ronald Reagan in the U.S. military, Mehmet was in the Turkish military,” McCormick said in a debate. (Oz has said that he maintained his Turkish citizenship to care for his ill mother, who lives there, and that he served in the Turkish military in order to maintain that citizenship.)
McCormick largely followed the blueprint set forth by Glenn Youngkin, another Republican former finance executive who won the governor’s office in purple Virginia last year. McCormick’s campaign hired the same firm that advised Youngkin.
McCormick was the beneficiary of more than $16 million in advertising spending from a super PAC called Honor Pennsylvania, funded by Wall Street figures. His campaign and Oz’s campaign also each spent more than $12 million on TV ads.
McCormick’s Republican rivals, meanwhile, attempted to tie him to China, using his former hedge fund Blackwater’s investments there to hammer him.
Fetterman already previewed a line of attack aimed at whoever won the Republican primary, calling Oz and McCormick – who both only recently moved to Pennsylvania – “two carpetbagging Republicans.” McCormick was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and the US Constitution only requires that senators live in the state they represent when elected.
Pennsylvania is also hosting a crucial governor’s race this fall that pits Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has embraced Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election, against Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has defended the state’s election procedures – with the winner gaining the power to appoint the secretary of state who will take control of Pennsylvania’s election machinery in time for the 2024 presidential contest.
This story has been updated with additional information.