GOP field in Pennsylvania Senate race still wide open as hard-right state lawmaker says he won’t run

State Sen. Doug Mastriano made the announcement Thursday night as top party officials try to recruit a strong candidate in the moderate battleground state in 2024.

Doug Mastriano speaking into a microphone

FILE - Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano speaks to supporters during an election night campaign event at the Penn Harris Hotel in Camp Hill, Pa., Nov. 8, 2022. Mastriano has said he will announce Thursday night, May 25, 2023, whether he will run for U.S. Senate, less than seven months after his landslide loss in last November’s general election for governor. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

A hard-right Pennsylvania state lawmaker said Thursday night that he will not challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, leaving the GOP field wide open as Republican Party officials try to recruit a strong candidate in the moderate battleground state to help capture a Senate majority in 2024.

Doug Mastriano, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in last year’s race for governor but lost in a landslide, said in a livestreamed appearance with his wife that he will not run for Senate “at this moment the way things currently are.”

Former hedge fund CEO David McCormick is the favorite of party leaders and has drawn pledges of financial support from top Republican officials — should he decide to run.

McCormick, however, is facing a complicated decision, with Trump seeking the party’s nomination for president. A Mastriano candidacy could have further complicated McCormick’s path and was causing heartburn in some GOP circles.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

At the very least, it could have forced McCormick “to go spend millions to defend himself when that money would be better used in a general election or to help other candidates statewide,” said Sam DeMarco, a McCormick ally and chair of the Allegheny County GOP.

Mastriano, a state senator, did not voice explicit support for McCormick or any other candidate, but said he expected that an eventual GOP nominee would live up to their campaign pledges.

For Republicans, Pennsylvania is a top target in their quest to recapture the Senate majority, while Democrats face a difficult Senate map in 2024.

Of 34 seats up for election, Democrats must defend incumbents in red states — Montana, Ohio and West Virginia — and multiple swing states, including Pennsylvania, if they are to hold their 51-seat majority.

The prospect of a Mastriano victory in a primary had prompted handwringing among some Republicans.

Mastriano had spent the last few months saying he could win a Senate primary “hands down” and blaming the party establishment for his 15-point loss in November’s election for governor.

But many Republican officials say Mastriano’s subpar political skills, inability to raise money and extreme positions on abortion — among other issues — would guarantee a Casey victory in a state that has long embraced more moderate voices.

Republican hopes for victory may rest on McCormick, who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for Senate in 2022 to Dr. Mehmet Oz.

McCormick has promises of support from party brass, including a super PAC linked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

McCormick also has deep pockets and connections across spheres of politics, business and government from which to draw endorsements and campaign contributions — none of which were enough to prevail against Oz, the Trump-backed candidate who went on to lose the general election to Democrat John Fetterman.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

If he runs, McCormick may have to share a ticket with Trump, who castigated McCormick in last year’s primary and continues to tell the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

In a book he published in March, McCormick told of an exchange with Trump in which the former president told him that, to win last year’s Senate primary, McCormick would need to say the 2020 election was stolen.

“I made it clear to him that I couldn’t do that. Three days later, Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz,” McCormick wrote.

Trump went on to campaign against McCormick, deriding him at one point as the “candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”

McCormick lost to Oz by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal