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Oz, McCormick locked in nail-biter as Pa. GOP Senate primary results trickle in

Democrats nominated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman for the Senate, while Republicans backed Doug Mastriano for governor, NBC News projects.
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Pennsylvania's chaotic Republican Senate primary was too close to call early Wednesday, with celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz locked in a tight race with former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick.

With 91 percent of the expected ballots counted shortly after midnight, Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, led McCormick by about 850 votes. State law requires an automatic recount if the margin of victory is within 0.5 percentage points.

“Unfortunately, we’re not going to have resolution tonight,” McCormick predicted in remarks to his supporters, asserting that mail-in votes tabulated later Wednesday would seal his victory.

Oz also urged patience when he addressed supporters.

“When all the votes are tallied,” he said late Tuesday, “I am confident we will win.”

The winner will face Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, who was hospitalized in the final days of the campaign after he had a stroke.

The state secretary of state’s office indicated in a statement that it could take “a few days” to report unofficial results.

“Ahead of the primary, more than 900,000 applications for mail-in and absentee ballots were requested,” the statement said. “We expect to have unofficial results within a few days. Given the possibility of recounts and the need for official certifications, it is unlikely that final results in all races will be available tonight.”

In the race for governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, known for advancing debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, has won the GOP primary, NBC News projects.

Mastriano had been leading in polls when he scored a last-minute endorsement from Trump over the weekend. He will face state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee, in the general election.

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Trump's endorsement record was mixed Tuesday, and it could look worse if Oz can't hold on.

In North Carolina, Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd won the GOP Senate primary and will face Democrat Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, in the general election, NBC News projected. But embattled Rep. Madison Cawthorn, whom Trump supported, lost a tough primary. And in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little survived a Trump-backed primary challenge from his own lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin.

But the brightest spotlight Tuesday was on Pennsylvania, where after months of vitriol and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads, results could give the most clarity about the future of the Republican Party and Trump's hold over it.

In the battle for the nomination to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, Oz found himself in a three-way fight. He and McCormick bombarded the state’s airwaves with commercials. Polls had shown Kathy Barnette — a conservative commentator who has spent far less money and would be the first woman and the first Black candidate to win a Senate seat in Pennsylvania — surging late, although she ended up trailing Oz and McCormick on Election Day.

In the GOP race for governor, Mastriano had led in polls, and former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta had tried to consolidate support among Republicans who argued that Mastriano is too extreme to be elected this fall. But Trump's late endorsement most likely fortified Mastriano against such efforts to stop him.

Mastriano and Barnette, who campaigned as a tandem, both traveled to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory over Trump. Both also have denied that they participated in the riot that breached the Capitol that day.

“I feel about Jan. 6 the way the left feels about the summer of 2020, when you have Black Lives Matter and ‘antifa’ and other groups out there looting and robbing and everyone was calling it mostly peaceful protests,” Barnette said in an interview this week.

There was less suspense on the Democratic side Tuesday. Fetterman had held a sizable lead in polls of the Senate race, although his stroke kept him off the campaign trail in the final days and away from his victory party.

Shapiro was unopposed in his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited.

"Pennsylvanians need a governor who can meet this moment, but Republicans just nominated a dangerous extremist who wants to take away our freedoms," Shapiro, who also had to skip a victory party Tuesday after he tested positive for Covid, said in a statement Tuesday night. "The contrast in this election could not be clearer — Doug Mastriano wants to ban abortion without exceptions, restrict the right to vote and spread conspiracy theories, and destroy the union way of life for hard working Pennsylvanians."

Primaries in North Carolina, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon

The GOP Senate primary in North Carolina, where Republican incumbent Richard Burr isn't seeking re-election, had particularly high stakes. Trump endorsed Budd over former Gov. Pat McCrory. Budd also had the backing of the Club for Growth, a big-spending conservative group that split with Trump in this month’s rowdy Senate primary in Ohio, as well as in Pennsylvania, where it was behind Barnette.

Cawthorn, meanwhile, conceded to state Sen. Chuck Edwards, ending his bid for re-election. Cawthorn has been a vocal supporter of Trump and was seen as a rising star in that wing of the Republican Party.

Elsewhere, in contests that tested the mood in the Democratic Party more than a year into Biden’s presidency, several left-wing congressional candidates flamed out after they faced late barrages of attacks from moderate Democratic and pro-Israel super PACs.

National progressives decided this year to focus on Democratic-leaning congressional districts where no incumbents were on the ballot, but left-wing candidates Tuesday ended up losing by wide margins in two North Carolina districts and one in Louisville, Kentucky.

The left still has a chance to notch a victory in a Pittsburgh congressional district, where Bernie Sanders-backed Summer Lee is running neck and neck with Steve Irwin, who is supported by retiring Rep. Mike Doyle. And they could still oust moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader in Oregon, where results are expected to take some time to be finalized.

National Democrats backed Schrader, while the local party supported progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, arguing that Schrader isn't a real incumbent because the heavily redrawn district is now made up mostly of new voters.

In a crowded primary in the neighboring 6th District, a PAC linked to a cryptocurrency billionaire has spent $10.5 million — a virtually unheard-of sum, making it by far the most expensive House race of the cycle so far, according to Open Secrets, a nonprofit organization that tracks campaign finance data.

But it was Pennsylvania — with its chaotic and Trumpy primaries and swing-state status — that commanded most of the national attention. The Senate race is expected to be one of the most expensive in the battle for control of the chamber this fall. The two parties have a 50-50 split in the chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaking vote for Democrats.

Trump inserted himself into the Senate race early, endorsing Army veteran Sean Parnell, an unsuccessful congressional candidate in 2020. But Parnell dropped out last fall after he lost a child custody dispute that included allegations of abuse, which he denied. 

Oz and McCormick quickly jumped into the race. And McCormick, whose hedge fund history clashed with Trump’s economic nationalism and anti-China rhetoric, quickly surrounded himself with high-level veterans of Trump's White House and campaigns. McCormick’s wife, Dina Powell, served in the Trump administration and was featured prominently in her husband’s campaign ads.

Oz’s dual citizenship in Turkey and the occasionally liberal positions he advanced before he entered politics became fodder for McCormick and other rivals. Oz has vowed to renounce his Turkish citizenship if he wins the Senate race. And two influential champions helped him score Trump’s endorsement: former first lady Melania Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Barnette, meanwhile, was perhaps best known for her unsuccessful 2020 congressional bid in the Philadelphia suburbs — a landslide loss that she baselessly attributed to voter fraud

She stood out, however, at candidate forums and debates, earning free media coverage that offset the fact that Oz and McCormick were far outspending her on TV. And Barnette’s personal story — she speaks often about how she was conceived when her mother, then 11 years old, was raped — has resonated on the right at a time when the Supreme Court might soon overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

On the Democratic side, the populist Fetterman had long outpolled centrist U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who would have been the state's first openly gay and first Black senator. Fetterman has built a national profile through his support for legal recreational marijuana and LGBTQ rights while eschewing labels like "progressive" and pushing back against comparisons with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the democratic socialist he has aligned with in the past.

Lamb and Kenyatta both criticized Fetterman for an incident in 2013, when he pulled a shotgun on a Black jogger after he heard what he thought was gunfire and detained the man until police arrived. Fetterman, who is white and was the mayor of the Pittsburgh-area borough of Braddock at the time, has said he couldn't tell the man's race. The jogger was unarmed.

The attacks from Lamb and Kenyatta didn't harm Fetterman in a primary that polls showed him leading from the start.

"Democrats need to be unequivocally united in our defense of this democracy, and we will be," Lamb said in an emailed concession statement late Tuesday. "John’s vote in the Senate is essential to protect this democracy, and he will have my vote in November. I will do everything I can to help Democrats win."