Pennsylvania Senate primary headed to wild finish

GREENSBURG, PA, USA - MAY 6: 45th President of United States Donald J. Trump speaks at the 'Save America' rally as he endorse Dr. Mehmet Oz for senate, in Greensburg of Pennsylvania, United States on May 6, 2022. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 20

  • Biden’s handlers forced to make him discuss inflation
  • Trump’s endorsement clears up some races but confuses others
  • Democrat enters Alaska senate race, potentially hurting Murkowski


Inflation: You know that the polling on the issue of inflation must be horrific for President Joe Biden to come out and stage an entire event just to discuss it. For a year now, the Biden administration has been trying to deny and downplay it for so long that this constitutes an implicit admission of his own failure. Naturally, however, he would not come out and admit that explicitly, even under direct questioning.

Biden’s remarks on inflation last week came right before new data was released showing another terrible month of inflation running above an annualized 8%. Clearly, Democrats recognize that there is a need to get out in front of this issue, it’s just that they probably cannot. No matter how much they say or do, they are the party in power, and Biden’s role in causing the current inflation was both predictable and predicted — by Democratic intellectuals, no less — at the start of his presidency.

The weakness in the current economy — and that primarily means inflation — will be the main issue in the 2022 election. Democrats can try to change the subject, but it probably won’t work. 

What’s more, the Democrats’ focus-group-tested phrase “ultra-MAGA” sounds like a real loser. Biden did his best to test drive it in his appearance last week, and it was every bit is hilarious as you might expect.

The Trump Effect: Former president Donald Trump obviously continues to play an outsized role in Republican politics. But not all of his endorsement are equal. 

In most states, Trump has effectively helped settle contested primary races. For example, in North Carolina’s Senate race, Trump’s endorsement seems to have been decisive. Aand the shade Trump has cast at the erratic Rep. Madison Cawthorn could prove fatal to the young lawmaker’s political career.  Trump’s endorsement is apparently also good in the race for Texas attorney general, in which incumbent Ken Paxton seems likely to survive next Tuesday against George P. Bush. 

But in Pennsylvania, as we discuss below, Trump’s intervention has only made the picture more complicated. 

It also remains to be seen how Trump’s endorsement will be received in later primaries, such as that of Nevada next month, in which he endorsed the moderate anti-gun rights Republican candidate for governor over two conservatives.

Governor 2022

Idaho: although Governor Brad Little should easily win renomination over Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin — this race has drawn far more attention than it probably deserves — Idaho’s incumbent Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, will narrowly lose to conservative former Rep. Raul Labrador.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Republican regulars are certain that the nomination of Doug Mastriano will cause a down ticket implosion and the destruction of the state party in an otherwise Republican year. This is why Trump’s endorsement of Mastriano over the weekend has caused such an uproar. It has already prompted to other candidates to drop out and endorse former Rep. Lou Barletta instead.

However, it should be remembered that many people thought Trump’s nomination would certainly put Pennsylvania outside Republicans reach in November 2016. Also, it may not sound like much of a defense, but crazier people than Mastriano have been elected governor in less Republican states, given the right environment — for example, Maine’s Paul LePage.

Senate 2022

Alaska: After their first candidate dropped out, Democrats seemed set to go into this race without a nominee, which would have probably guaranteed the survival of Sen. Lisa Murkowski. But with Democrat Patricia Chesbro now officially signed up, Murkowski’s chances of losing in the peculiar new top-four general election contest are probably greater. Conservative Trump-endorsee Kelly Tshibaka has a marginally better chance if both Murkowski and an actual Democratic Party candidate are splitting the liberal vote on the ballot in November. Trump has never forgiven Murkowski for voting against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and in favor of his impeachment. 

North Carolina: it won’t be very exciting here — Rep. Ted Budd should win his primary convincingly and begin as the frontrunner in the general election race against Democratic former state supreme court justice Cheri Beasley. The winner replaces the retiring controversial Republican Sen. Richard Burr.

Pennsylvania: This will be the wildest finish so far. The Republican U.S. Senate primary is coming down to the wire, a photo finish between three candidates. Of course there is Dr Mehmet Oz, president Trump’s most controversial endorsement of the cycle so far. There is also David McCormick, a Pennsylvania native and hedge fund manager who served in the Army special forces. The big news last week was Kathy Barnette, a commentator who suddenly came out of nowhere with a strong debate performance. She briefly appeared on the verge of an upset.

However, Barnette had not been vetted, and her bio seems to contain some pretty big inconsistencies. Take it with a grain of salt, but various last-second polls, including at least one campaign’s internal poll but also the latest Emerson College poll, show a tight three-way race that any of them could win.

Even President Trump’s fans were not thrilled with his Oz endorsement — In fact, Oz was booed at the Trump event two weeks ago. That prompted Trump to savage McCormick at the same event. McCormick is probably the strongest general election candidate of the three, but Barnett is probably the Trumpiest, even though she did not get the Trump endorsement.

Clearly, although Trump’s endorsement has been good enough to settle many other races, it has only made things more complicated in Pennsylvania. Primary election voters often change their minds quite dramatically at the last minute — witness Joe Biden’s win in South Carolina the moment Democrats realized they were about to nominate Bernie Sanders for president and guarantee Trump a second term. That could well happen in Pennsylvania, so it is going to be a very wild finish on Tuesday.

Speaking of Trump, Barnette’s candidacy may be boosted by the fact that Trump just endorsed the eccentric Doug Mastriano for governor. Mastriano has been campaigning in tandem with Barnette.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is still on his way to a convincing victory of 30 points or more. He did suffer a stroke last week, but it does not appear to have affected him too badly.