To win a statewide election, candidates usually must have one of two things — high name recognition or deep pockets. In Pennsylvania’s pivotal 2024 Senate race, the top two candidates each hold one of the advantages.
Incumbent Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), the longest-serving Democratic senator in the state’s history, has won six of the seven statewide races he has competed in. He is also the son of the late Gov. Bob Casey Sr., a Democrat who led Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995. Sen. Casey’s likely 2024 GOP opponent, David McCormick, who lost his 2022 midterm primary to Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, is a former hedge fund executive who earned millions at Connecticut-based Bridgewater Associates.
The Pennsylvania Senate seat Casey and McCormick will be dueling over is historically competitive for both parties. In 2006, Casey, who was state treasurer then, flipped the seat for Democrats by beating then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) by over 17 percentage points.
Santorum had held the seat since 1995, when he beat Harris Wofford, a Democrat appointed to the seat in 1991 after the Republican who held it died in office. Wofford then won a special election to complete the Senate term.
In recent cycles, Democrats have seen more success in the state than Republicans. In 2022, now-Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA) beat Trump-backed Republican Doug Mastriano by over 14 percentage points.
In the same cycle, now-Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) beat Oz for Pennsylvania’s other Senate seat, which had been held by retired Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, by over 263,000 votes during the general election.
The race was the second-most expensive during the 2022 cycle, with over $420 million spent for the seat that helped Democrats secure their slim 51-49 Senate majority.
Oz, a celebrity heart surgeon, became the party’s nominee after beating McCormick by only 951 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast in the Republican primary. Oz had the backing of former President Donald Trump as well, cementing his victory in the primary.
A Presidential and Senate Battleground
The Senate race will overlap with what’s sure to be a ferocious fight in the presidential race for Pennsylvania’s 19 Electoral College votes. It’s likely to boost voter turnout in what already figured to be a fierce Senate election.
President Joe Biden is somewhat of a hometown boy in Pennsylvania. He’s a native of Scranton, and his home in Delaware’s Chateau Country, north of Wilmington, is a quick drive to the Pennsylvania state line.
But the likely Republican nominee, Trump, has shown enduring electoral strength in Pennsylvania, particularly its rural environs. In 2016, Trump claimed the presidency by being the first Republican nominee since 1988 to win Pennsylvania, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, shattering the longtime Democratic “blue wall.”
In 2020, Biden beat Trump in Pennsylvania 50.01% to 48.84%. That’s hardly a nail-biter, but Trump came within striking distance of a second Pennsylvania presidential win. And both sides can be expected to pour massive resources into the Keystone State next year.
Other factors also add up to a neck-and-neck Senate race. Heading into 2024, GOP political consultant Christopher Nicholas said McCormick will have a big advantage, with no serious GOP primary challengers and the party “completely 10,000% behind” him.
In the 2022 cycle, the divided GOP primary field resulted in McCormick taking a “lot of incoming fire” from the other GOP candidates’ campaigns, according to Nicholas.
“That won’t be an issue this time,” Nicholas said. “So that’s good for him.”
In an unusual move, the Pennsylvania GOP issued its endorsement of McCormick during its fall meeting on Camp Hill on Sept. 30 — a decision that usually comes during the party’s winter meeting, according to Nicholas.
The endorsement shows the shift in the party’s attitude toward McCormick since the 2022 cycle and comes after the party heavily encouraged him to jump into the race.
Money vs. Name Recognition
McCormick, a West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran who was an official in the Treasury Department during former President George W. Bush’s administration, was relatively unknown to Pennsylvania voters when he ran in 2022.
McCormick spent $14 million of his own money in the 2022 midterm elections as he sought to win the nomination. McCormick’s extensive resume also means he has significant ties throughout the political and business realms, making his fundraising potential substantial.
On the other hand, Casey has deep ties in the state as the son of a two-term governor and as a former Pennsylvania state official, holding the office of Pennsylvania treasurer and auditor general before his current position.
Being the incumbent, Casey will enjoy an advantage in the race as he is well known to voters. During his 2018 reelection bid, he secured a Senate win for the third time by 13 percentage points.
Pittsburgh-based Democratic consultant Mike Mikus said he believes Casey is in an “incredibly strong position” heading into 2024, citing his history as the state’s senator for going on two decades.
Mikus also said Casey’s family history in the state carries “a lot of weight” for Pennsylvania voters.
Nicholas, however, thinks Casey may not enjoy the same political benefits as he has in the past, calling Casey’s first election in 2006 the best cycle for Democrats in his nearly 40-year working history. That year, Democrats won a House majority for the first time in a dozen years and unexpectedly flipped the Senate.
“He has always had the wind at his back politically because the environment was tilted heavily toward Democrats. He won’t have that next year,” Nicholas said. “He will still have all the vast powers of incumbency, but he won’t have that.”
Contrasting with Casey’s long history in the state, McCormick has faced criticism from both sides of the aisle over whether or not he lives in Pennsylvania — possibly complicating his position with voters.
While the GOP candidate owns a home in Pittsburgh, he spends a considerable amount of time in a mansion he rents in Connecticut’s “Gold Coast,” home to many hedge fund executives and other wealthy financial services executives, according to the Associated Press.
“No one disputes the fact that he grew up in Pennsylvania,” Mikus said. “But he chose to leave and did not choose to come back until there was a Senate seat to run for. And I think Pennsylvanians reject opportunists who aren’t from here.”