(Bloomberg Government) -- David McCormick, former CEO of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, launched a US Senate bid in Pennsylvania Thursday, thrilling national Republicans who see him as their best chance to flip a crucial swing seat.
McCormick, 58, immediately became the GOP favorite to challenge incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) in what’s likely to be one of the country’s most expensive and hotly contested Senate races.
McCormick announced his candidacy during a rally in Pittsburgh, where he described the incumbent as a rubber stamp for the policies of President Joe Biden (D). “This is a race between a Pennsylvania success story and a rubber-stamp career politician,” McCormick said. The decorated Army veteran ran for the Senate nomination last year, losing in the primary to celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz by fewer than 1,000 votes after the TV star secured an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Oz eventually lost to Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.).
Pennsylvania is one of the most politically competitive states in the country, and its Senate race is one of a handful that could decide which party controls the chamber starting in 2025, just behind top-tier races in Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Casey, 63, a close ally of President Joe Biden (their families lived on the same street in Scranton, Pa.), will be seeking a fourth term in the Senate and has been in statewide office since 1997, following in the footsteps of his namesake father, a popular former governor. He has routinely won big electoral victories despite Pennsylvania’s narrowly divided politics, based on a well-established political brand.
“He’s a very well-known and — I think this is extremely important — not hated politician,” said Alison Dagnes, chair of the political science department at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
Republicans in both Pennsylvania and Washington have heavily recruited McCormick, arguing that he can give Casey the toughest challenge of his career in a state where the last two presidential elections were determined by less than 2 percentage points.
McCormick’s allies point to his Pennsylvania roots, his glittering resume, and his immense wealth. McCormick grew up in the state, graduated from West Point, earned a Bronze Star in the first Gulf War, and then held high-level jobs in the George W. Bush administration’s Commerce and Treasury departments before becoming a business leader. He spent more than $14 million of his own money in his 2022 primary campaign, while allies from the high-finance world — including more than 60 Goldman Sachs executives who donated the maximum allowed — added more than $21 million more on his behalf.
Campaign money is crucial in a vast state where television advertising is critical, and many voters live in the expensive Philadelphia or Pittsburgh markets.
“Pennsylvania is the mothership of 2024, apparently,” Dagnes said, predicting that it could see more TV ads than any other state because of its many competitive elections.
(Follow congressional campaign trends, redistricting, ballot issues, and more with BGOV’s Ballots & Boundaries newsletter.)
After losing his first-ever bid for elected office, McCormick had long signaled his intention to try again.
He’s been a prominent presence at political events and in March published a book, Superpower in Peril, that outlined his biography and policy ideas — and that tried to rewrite some of his political liabilities. He has hired a campaign manager, Matt Gruda, who previously steered re-election bids for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), who has built a moderate profile in a competitive swing district.
“The world is changing rapidly, and our policies, institutions, and leaders are not keeping pace. Our strength and confidence are slipping away,” McCormick wrote in his book. Decline, “is not inevitable, but neither is renewal. What matters is what we do next.”
McCormick’s Second Senate Try Hinges on Fitting a Changed GOP
While Republicans argue McCormick will be strengthened by last year’s campaign experience, Democrats say he also bears scars. After McCormick campaigned as an “America First” Republican and portrayed himself as a pint-drinking, hunting, and Harley-riding everyman, Trump publicly slammed him as a “a liberal Wall Street Republican,” a figure of the “Washington establishment,” and “not MAGA.”
McCormick, whose wife Dina Powell McCormick was a Trump national security aide, had eagerly sought Trump’s endorsement, only to be rejected. He’ll face questions, as he did in 2022, about how well he can connect with a GOP remade by Trump, whose populist supporters can be hostile toward business and coastal elites, and anyone seen as part of the old Republican establishment.
The questions could be even more pressing if Trump again leads the Republican ticket, as he is favored to do.
“He is a very strong candidate because he’s the most normal candidate that’s a possibility at this point,” Dagnes said. “The question is: Will the MAGA right accept him? Because they didn’t before.”
Unlike in 2022, however, McCormick doesn’t appear likely to face major primary competition.
Democrats have emphasized McCormick’s comments in the early 2000’s praising China’s economic rise and globalization more broadly — potentially unpopular stances in a state that has lost much of its manufacturing heritage. And they’ve tried to paint him as an ultra-wealthy outsider who can’t understand the challenges of everyday Pennsylvanians. Before returning to run for office McCormick spent more than a decade living outside Pennsylvania, most of it in Connecticut while leading Bridgewater.
He bought a multi-million dollar home in Pittsburgh just as he launched his 2022 campaign.
Democrats have continued to challenge him on his residency, and have pointed to Bridgewater’s investments in China while McCormick was CEO. They’ve scoffed at pronouncements about his political potential, noting that despite a spending advantage he lost last year’s primary to a rival widely seen as a flawed candidate.
Casey won his last campaign, in 2018, by more than 13 percentage points amid a national Democratic wave.
“My record’s pretty clear: I’ve delivered for the people of our state in very direct ways,” Casey said in an interview. “But also when you look at the whole range of legislation we passed as Democrats: infrastructure projects in rural communities as well as urban communities, lifting up families not just in the grip of the pandemic but all the time, and making those investments that show that we want to continue to support people of our state through those investments.”
Republicans, however, say Casey has never been challenged by an opponent as formidable as McCormick, or effectively called out for increasingly liberal positions on issues such as guns and same-sex marriage.
Pennsylvania’s Senate race will play out against the backdrop of a heated presidential contest in the state, which has the most electoral votes of any battleground. The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates the Senate race as leaning Democratic.
Zach C. Cohen in Washington also contributed to this story.
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(Updates with comments from announcement event in the third paragraph.)
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