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Republican David McCormick launches U.S. Senate campaign in Pittsburgh

Republican David McCormick addresses supporters after announcing he will enter Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race and make his second bid for the office, this time to take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.
Gene J. Puskar
Republican David McCormick addresses supporters after announcing he will enter Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race and make his second bid for the office, this time to take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

David McCormick launched his long-anticipated campaign for U.S. Senate Thursday evening, telling a crowd gathered at Pittsburgh's Heinz History Center that he would be "a leader to rekindle the American spirit."

"Congress is broken. The budget is broken. The ability to get anything done is broken," said McCormick, who was joined on stage by his wife, Dina. "And the truth is, both parties need to be shaken up."

McCormick's entrance into the race has been anticipated for months, but his speech Thursday was just 15 minutes long. In it, he touched on his Iraq war combat experience as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division — "We had a saying, which is 'Paratroopers lead the way'" — as well as his family's longstanding roots in the state.

He also repeatedly attacked Democratic incumbent Bob Casey as the candidate of the status quo.

"When Joe Biden says 'jump,' Bob Casey says, 'How high?' When Joe Biden says 'vote,' Bob Casey says, 'Which way?'" McCormick said. "Bob Casey represents six more years of rubber stamps.

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"Bob Casey is not going to change Washington," he said. "Bob Casey is Washington."

The speech only touched briefly on policy, with McCormick decrying a country with "a border that's open, [and] too many factories are closed." He promised an aggressive approach to China, but largely eschewed policy specifics, stressing that the country needed "leadership" and warning, "We cannot lose our country, we cannot lose our culture. We must not accept the status quo."

McCormick ran for Senate unsuccessfully last year, narrowly losing the GOP primary to Mehmet Oz. He acknowledged that history Thursday, telling the audience "I've had my share of successes, but I've had my share of personal failures and public failures. ... I know what it's like to lose a big election. You may have heard about it."

Still, he said his campaign would "unify the Republican Party ... and together, we can work to earn the votes of all the citizens in this great commonwealth."

In attendance at the event were a number of prominent local Republicans, including former state House speaker Mike Turzai, former Congressman Tim Murphy, and state Senator Devlin Robinson.

Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala, who had been a Democrat of long-standing until losing his party's primary this past spring, also appeared.

The Senate candidates in Pennsylvania will share a ticket with candidates for president next year in a state that is critical to whether Democrats can maintain control of the White House and the Senate.

A race between Casey and McCormick could be one of the nation's most expensive and closely watched in a year when Democrats have a difficult 2024 Senate map that requires them to defend incumbents in red states — Montana, Ohio and West Virginia — and multiple swing states.

McCormick, 58, was heavily recruited to run again by the party establishment and, thus far, has a clear GOP primary field.

Casey is unlikely to face serious opposition, if any, in his party's primary. He is a stalwart of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party — the son of a former two-term governor and Pennsylvania's longest-ever serving Democrat in the Senate.

Casey spent a decade in statewide office — as auditor general then as treasurer — before going on to win three elections for Senate by no fewer than 9 percentage points each time.

Casey is an ally of labor unions and President Joe Biden. In Congress, Casey has backed all of Biden’s top priorities and forged a close relationship with the president, at least in part because the men both hail from the same hometown of Scranton.

McCormick, who grew up near Bloomsburg, is the son of Pennsylvania’s first state university system chancellor. He won a Bronze Star for his service in the first Gulf War and worked in Pittsburgh where he ran online auction house FreeMarkets Inc. at the dawn of the tech boom.

He served in senior positions in former President George W. Bush’s administration before moving to Connecticut to work for hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. He resigned as CEO and bought a house in Pittsburgh before running for Senate last year, although indications that he still lives on Connecticut’s ritzy “Gold Coast ” have drawn early attacks from Democrats.

Attendees didn't have to look far to be reminded of those attacks Thursday night: While the party faithful mingled, an aircraft towing a banner that read "Welcome to Pennsylvania, Dave" circled outside. The state Democratic Party confirmed having paid for the banner.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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.