Are we headed for a yuuuge upset in the Pennsylvania Senate primary?

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a poll that knocked me sideways like the one today from Trafalgar. More on that in a second.

Just to set the stage: We all know who Dr. Oz is but most of us should have a passing acquaintance with Dave McCormick at this point too. He’s the hedge-fund guy who’s married to former Trump deputy Dina Powell and has been hiring other former Trump advisors by the bushel in order to give himself a patina of MAGA authenticity among Pennsylvania Republicans. Both men are extremely rich (mega-rich in McCormick’s case) and both are … not ideally suited to winning a primary in the Trump-era GOP. Oz is a celebrity doctor with dual citizenship in Turkey who’s taken an array of squishy political positions in the past. He’s pro-vax too, which, yikes. McCormick, on the other hand, is big business personified and has been known to say discouraging things about the insurrection on January 6. Double yikes:

“I wasn’t particularly involved with the Trump camp — I wasn’t a Trump supporter,” he said at a 2017 event at Duke University, adding that he nonetheless wanted whichever candidate that won — Trump or Hillary Clinton — to be successful.

That isn’t the only remark that could come back to bite him in the primary: After the attack on the Capitol last January, McCormick said at a Bloomberg summit that Trump bore “a lot of responsibility” for the “polarization” and “divisiveness” of the previous four years. In the same interview, he complimented President Joe Biden, saying he “really appreciated Biden’s tone” about uniting the country, and called the news of some of Biden’s first appointments “encouraging.”…

Last month, Trump watched the January 2021 clip of McCormick chiding Trump’s rhetoric, according to a person close to the former president. Trump at the time also reviewed a document outlining other comments McCormick has made, though it’s unclear who prepared the list and what was included in it.

That comes from a Politico report published in January. McCormick has done everything he could since then to atone, bringing in Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller to staff his campaign and visiting Mar-a-Lago to kiss the great man’s ring and hopefully earn his endorsement, all to no avail. The dilemma for MAGA voters in Pennsylvania is that both McCormick and Oz are transparent phonies, posing as salt-of-the-earth fightin’ populists when they’re anything but. At least J.D. Vance manages to do a convincing impression of a populist to obscure his own hedge-fund pedigree.

So what do you do if you’re a Republican voter? Your choices are the phony Oz or the phony McCormick. It’s a binary choice. Isn’t it?

What if I told you there was a third option? From Trafalgar:

McCormick isn’t in the top two anymore. And Barnette’s showing is no fluke. She’s hit double digits in four of the last five polls and gained five points between Trafalgar’s April and May surveys.

Trump held a rally for Oz last weekend in Pennsylvania and launched into a shockingly harsh attack on McCormick. Normally you’d expect him to be mildly complimentary of a candidate who worked so hard to earn his support but fell short in the end. I’m thinking, for instance, of how he laid off George P. Bush in Texas despite endorsing his opponent, Ken Paxton, in the state AG’s race. But despite McCormick’s marriage to Powell, despite his willingness to hire Trump alumni, despite his willingness to stoop to visiting Trump in Florida, Trump lowered the boom on him:

Watching that clip makes me wonder if Trump just inadvertently cleared the way for a Barnette upset. After all, there’s some segment of MAGA voter who won’t back Oz no matter what. Until Friday night’s rally, those voters might have made a late break towards McCormick over the coming week, holding their nose to support a guy who’s a little less offensive to them than Oz is. A Republican can win a primary without Trump’s endorsement, I think, so long as Trump doesn’t actively disdain him. (Brian Kemp is a notable exception, buoyed by the advantages of incumbency.)

But Trump does disdain McCormick. And so some meaningful number of those undecideds might be looking at Barnette now as the least bad option available. Not to mention the “soft” McCormick supporters who were looking for an “Anyone But Oz” candidate and are now rethinking their choice after Trump’s harsh attack on their guy.

I know next to nothing about her, only that she’s a veteran, a conservative commentator, and that as a 2020 congressional candidate she was sniffing around for evidence of voter fraud early to try to explain her defeat. She’s pretty jazzed about the Trafalgar poll, and no wonder:

She made headlines last week when she said that she was conceived in the course of a rape, when her father was 21 and her mother just 11. That would make her an interesting figure as Republican nominee in a general election campaign in which the likely overturning of Roe is a factor. And in one sense, she’d be a tough match-up for likely Democratic nominee John Fetterman. Fetterman has been attacked in his own primary for an incident years ago in which he pulled a gun on an unarmed black jogger because he’d heard gunshots nearby. The GOP will revisit that incident in the general election. Having a black Senate nominee doing the revisiting would add special force to it.

Barnette doesn’t have deep pockets like Oz and McCormick to run a major statewide campaign. But since the GOP will be on offense everywhere this fall, with cash rolling in from excited Republican donors, they’ll be able to help close the gap with Fetterman. She’s got a real shot at the upset in the primary, meanwhile, thanks partly to Trump.

I’ll leave you with McCormick’s sad new ad, in which he responds to Trump’s disdain by hugging him tighter, of course. It’s hard to find a Republican candidate anywhere this year with an ounce of self-respect. Hard, but not impossible.