There is no question that without former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, Dr. Mehmet Oz would not be locked in a too close to call race with Dave McCormick for the Republican nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania in 2022. The race has yet to be called with ballots still coming in and a mandatory recount to follow should the margin of victory be 0.5 percent or less.
Still, Trump’s presence in this race cannot be understated, after the former president staged a rally for Oz in Westmoreland County on May 6, generating momentum — and lots of interest — in the race.
Republican turnout in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican Primary was more than 1.3 million and counting as of this writing. In the Democratic primary it was 1.17 million. That is a discernable enthusiasm gap, and about what one would expect to see in a midterm cycle that already favors Republicans simply because they lost the White House in 2020.
In this case, Trump held one of his signature rallies less than two weeks before the primary, leading to a surge for Oz in the polls and a big Primary Day turnout in his favor, particularly in eastern Pennsylvania areas like Bucks County, although to be fair Oz performed well in McCormick strongholds like Westmoreland County as well. With the race so close, every bit of vote across the state made the difference.
And with big statewide victories for Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s nominee for Governor in Pennsylvania, who also had Trump’s endorsement, and another big Trump endorsed win for U.S. Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) for the Senate nomination in North Carolina, all coming on the heels of J.D. Vance’s convincing win for the Republican nomination for the Ohio Senate seat, Trump is clearly onto something as he restores his reputation for winning politically.
Now, the real test will come in November. Going by historical trends, this would be a big Republican year anyway, and so Republican candidates, Trump-endorsed or not, should do very well. If Trump’s candidates should win in November, or if most of them do, it could cement Trump as the putative favorite to run again in 2024 in the eyes of Republican primary voters.
On the other hand, if Trump’s candidates were to fail, Trump’s opponents would almost certainly use it against him. That is where Trump’s risk lies, but it is a risk is to his own political fortunes.
For better or for worse for Republicans, in 2022, the die is now cast.
Right now, the Republican Party still benefits from a robust primary process that generates buzz and is causing Republican candidates to go pedal to the metal in a bid to garnering Trump’s favor. He’s creating an incentive for candidates to perform on the campaign trail, but is also continuing to build a movement all his own in the process.
There seems to be a method to Trump’s madness, as it were.
Trump improved on his 2016 vote total of 62.9 million, garnering 74.2 million during his second run, bringing in millions of new Republican voters. By keeping his rallies going into 2022, Trump is continuing that work. If he runs again in 2024, he will be continuing that work. He can go into any state, stage a rally and it will have a similar impact on Republican turnout this year. No other potential Republican candidate for president can do that right now.
That is why, whether Oz prevails in the Senate race or McCormick — both appear to have waged valiant, well-fought campaigns — it is clear that in Pennsylvania the clear winner is the Republican Party.
Robert Romano is the vice president of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.