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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — As former President Donald Trump balks at making another endorsement in Pennsylvania’s closely watched Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick is turning to other influencers of the party in hopes of generating conservative enthusiasm.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who backed McCormick last week, headlined a rally for the candidate Tuesday at a skeet shooting range near Allentown that was also McCormick’s first public appearance.
It was a preview of McCormick’s campaign strategy of recruiting a roster of party stars and Trump White House insiders, including adviser Hope Hicks and press secretary Sarah Sanders, who runs now as governor of Arkansas.
The contest in Pennsylvania for the seat vacated by retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey is expected to be one of a handful of competitive races this year that will determine control of the Senate, a sentiment shared by Cruz as he was puzzled for McCormick and pointed to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
“Pennsylvania could very well decide this whole election,” Cruz said. “The Senate is in the balance. I believe if we win in Pennsylvania, we will defeat Chuck Schumer. And if we lose in Pennsylvania, I think in all likelihood Schumer will remain the majority leader.
In recent weeks, the Republican lead field for the Pennsylvania Senate seat has been reset after Trump-endorsed nominee Sean Parnell pulled out of the race amid a nasty custody battle over his ex. -spouse.
The national party is officially neutral, and party officials don’t expect Trump to make another endorsement in the race anytime soon.
The nominees are scrambling to curry favor with state committee members ahead of a Feb. 5 vote of approval and so, for now, the surrogates will have to do.
McCormick is able to garner high-level support through his experience in Washington as a senior official in President George W. Bush’s administration and through the influence of his wife, Dina Powell, a former deputy adviser to national security in the Trump administration. He is also well known in high finance as the former CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds.
Before reviewing McCormick’s lengthy resume as a Gulf War veteran and senior government official, Cruz told the crowd, “Let me tell you something about this guy: He’s a badass.
Still, McCormick has several hurdles to overcome.
First, he just entered the race just two weeks ago. Second, he just returned to Pittsburgh after living in Washington and Connecticut since 2005, drawing carpet cries from his rivals.
Third, he’s relatively unknown to voters, especially since his main rivals include Jeff Bartos, the GOP-endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Mehmet Oz, the heart surgeon, wellness author and television personality who enjoys unrivaled name recognition as a host. from the daytime television show “Dr. Show of Oz.”
It remains to be seen if McCormick’s strategy will help.
“If he has strangers coming in to speak on his behalf, that reinforces one of his issues, and that is that he just came back here from out of state,” said Jeffrey Piccola, president. of the Republican Party in York County and a supporter of Bartos.
Last Friday, Hicks pointed to McCormick’s dinner invitation at a fancy Italian restaurant in Wilkes-Barre, the day before two regional state party caucuses meet to interview candidates.
In addition to the rally with Cruz, Sanders is expected in Pennsylvania in the coming days.
For Washington County Republican Party Chairman Dave Ball, McCormick checks the boxes he looks for in a candidate: someone with the money to run a campaign, charisma, shared values and the ability to win a general election.
But Ball doesn’t care about endorsements. He doesn’t think they mean anything to voters or, for that matter, state committee members who will vote to approve or disapprove of a candidate in the May 17 primary election.
“With the endorsements they have right now,” Ball said, “who is going to be impressed with these?”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.