After weeks of expensive campaigning, the bizarre and eventful Pennsylvania GOP Senate Primary has come to an end, and, fittingly to its ups and downs, the winner is still undecided as the margin of difference between the candidates is still too small, and the race could go to either side.
The three-way race has effectively turned into a close battle between two candidates: the Trump-endorsed former TV star Dr. Mehmed Oz, and former Bridgewater CEO David McCormick. As of Wednesday afternoon, the former had a very slim advantage over the latter, as Oz has received 412,133 votes to McCormick’s 409,670, a difference of fewer than 2,500 votes and well within the recount territory demanded by law.
Both candidates said on election night that they expect to prevail as victors once votes are counted. Yet, the recount fight may be a long process where the winner might be chosen by just a handful of votes. Whoever wins the nomination will have to face Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who won the Democratic Primary, in November.
The only fact we have extremely clear as of today is that the ultra-conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, who was referred to by a former Trump strategist as “ultra-MAGA,” will not be the Republican nominee for Senator in November. At the moment this article was written, Barnette was trailing both McCormick and Oz by almost 7 points, with more than 95% of the precincts reporting.
The election results came as a surprise compared to the polls and surveys released before the voting began, as they signaled a race that would be more likely than not to be decided between Dr. Oz and Kathy Barnette, with McCormick following in a distant third place.
The close GOP Senate primary will be decided by the mail-in ballots and Election day votes in key counties
The total number of votes that are still remaining to be counted is unknown, but fate will be decided by a combination of election day and mail-in ballots. State law specify that, if the difference between both candidates is less than 0.5%, an automatic recount would be needed.
According to NBC’s electoral chief specialist, Steve Kornacki, most of the election day votes remaining to be counted (between 6,000 to 7,000) are from Allegheny County, where McCormick is leading Oz by 6 points. If McCormick manages to win y by the same margin, he will make a dent in Oz’s razor-thin lead.
However, most uncounted votes (32,000) come from mail-in ballots. Kornacki noted in a Twitter thread that, while McCormick has retained an advantage over Oz on the mail-in ballot count, it is still unknown if the such ballots will be more favorable to Oz, as they were either sent closer to election day or come from a county (Lancaster) where Oz is defeating McCormick on mail-in ballots.
The recount can get even slower after it was reported that an error by the company that printed the ballots in Lancaster County made the paper ballots unreadable by the scan, forcing poll workers to redo them by hand in a process that can take days. The error was compounded by the fact that the 2019 Pennsylvania electoral law (unlike that of Florida or other states) expands mail-in ballot access, but it compels elections workers to only start processing them on Election day, preventing election workers to determine if there’s any error or problem before they start processing the votes, which slows the counting of the vote even more.
The picture-finish of the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary comes after a campaign that was filled with highly unusual candidates and developments. The former front-runner had to withdraw due to allegations of domestic violence; the Trump-endorsed candidate was questioned as not conservative enough by many Trump supporters; and the polls badly underestimated the electoral strength of the more “establishment-like” candidate David McCormick.
Regardless of how the race ends, the Pennsylvania GOP will have a tough task ahead, as it will have to unite a fractured state party to defeat Fetterman, who unified the Democrats around him, in one of the closest states in the country.