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As McCormick prepares new Senate campaign, abortion questions linger

David McCormick holds a microphone in front of a large American flag.
Matt Rourke
David McCormick speaks at a campaign stop during the 2022 U.S. Senate campaign.

When former hedge fund manager David McCormick launches his bid for U.S. Senate, as he is expected to do Thursday in Pittsburgh, he won’t just be facing three-term Democratic incumbent Bob Casey. He’ll also be reckoning with his 2022 bid for the same office … and with the sea change in abortion rights that has taken place since that bid came up short.

Take McCormick’s own remarks about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, which his critics pounced on last year … and suspect him of trying to downplay now.

When a draft of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the ruling that overturned Roe, was leaked last spring, Pennsylvania Republicans were locked in a bitter seven-way primary fight to become the nominee to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. McCormick told Fox News host Laura Ingraham two weeks before the primary that overturning Roe “would be a huge step forward and a huge victory for the protection of life.”

The 2022 McCormick campaign posted the interview on its YouTube account, where Democrats cited it as proof he was “committed to attacking reproductive freedoms if elected.” But since then, that account has had all its videos removed (though an archived version of his remarks to Ingraham still exists). The interview also doesn’t appear on a campaign Facebook page, though the page does include other interviews with Ingraham he did during that campaign.

Such omissions are red flags for abortion rights supporters. They’ve previously criticized Carolyn Carluccio, this year’s Republican candidate for state Supreme Court, for apparently having removed language describing her as a “defender of all life” from a campaign bio.

“We see a lot of times where candidates try to scrub their position or take down social media,” said Signe Espinoza, the executive director at Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. “But abortion rights supporters are paying attention.”

McCormick’s campaign-in-waiting said it would be “ridiculous and not grounded in fact” to suggest that he was seeking to play down his position on abortion. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Gregory said “Dave’s position has been consistent since day one: he is pro-life and supports exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother.”

State Democrats aren’t buying it. Maddy McDaniel, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, accused McCormick of “lying in an attempt to cover up his long track record of supporting an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.”

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During a 2022 debate with other Republican hopefuls, when McCormick was asked, “Should there be exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of a mother,” he specified only one case in which he supported abortion: “in the very rare instances there should be exceptions for life of the mother.”

Some media outlets reported that statement to mean there were no other scenarios in which McCormick supported the procedure — without apparent pushback from the McCormick campaign, which at the time was challenging eventual primary winner Dr. Mehmet Oz from the right.

But more recently, McCormick’s circle has contested that characterization. It notes a 2022 voter-information flier from LifePAC, a political committee opposed to abortion rights, which identified him as supporting exceptions in case of rape or incest. And Gregory provided WESA with a taped excerpt of an exchange that she said took placeat a gathering in Bethel Park in February 2022.

On the tape, McCormick is asked about his position by a voter who appears to oppose exceptions in cases of rape. “I do accept three exceptions … rape, incest, and life of the mother,” McCormick says. “That’s the same position that Ronald Reagan had, that’s the same position that Donald Trump has.”

Republicans may be more willing to overlook such distinctions since the Dobbs decision, which many political observers say played a large role in spoiling the GOP’s hopes of capturing the Senate last year. Polling suggests that support for abortion rights has solidified nationally since the ruling, and some Republicans have concluded that emphasizing support for exceptions is smart politics.

This week McCormick’s candidacy was, in fact, publicly supported by state Senator and 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a staunch abortion-rights foe who was considered a possible U.S. Senate contender this year.

Mastriano’s support, coming just days before McCormick’s expected announcement, suggests the GOP may well avoid the primary fights that plagued it last year, though his endorsement was not quite entirely full-throated. He told conservative talk-show host John Fredericks that “There always are questions that each of us have” about candidates, but added, “I’m — I’m pretty much satisfied with the answers he gave me, so it’s time to unify.”

“We need to win,” Mastriano added. “We’ll never find a perfect candidate.”

“Dave is grateful to have received encouragement from Republicans across the ideological spectrum,” Gregory said, “because they know he would be the best candidate to beat Casey” — who she argued “supports abortion up until the moment of birth.”

Casey, while long identified as a “pro-life Democrat,” has tempered his own position on abortion through the years as the party has moved left on the issue. He’s espoused efforts to provide more support for contraception and social services as an alternative to abortion for struggling households.

Last year, he backed a bill to codify Roe into law, legislation that has drawn accusations that he and other Democrats support abortion without limit. Legal and medical experts have said such attacks ignore the fact that late-term abortions are rareand are limited to emergencies.

“Abortion until birth is not a thing,” said Espinoza of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. But she said that voters who support abortion rights should be wary of those who make the accusations, and who receive the support of figures such as Mastriano.

“A lot of these folks are in alignment,” she said. “Abortion is a top issue — and we know it’s an issue the opposition is going to rally around as well.”

Corrected: September 20, 2023 at 12:12 PM EDT
This story was corrected at 12:10 p.m. on Sept. 20, 2023, to reflect that there had been coverage of McCormick's Bethel Park appearance by the Washington Examiner. An earlier version of the story said that the event had not received media attention.
Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.