Former hedge fund titan David McCormick, left, and celebrity doctor Mezmet Oz remain locked in a race that's too close to call. (Photo: Associated Press)
LANCASTER, Pa. - When Pennsylvania's GOP Senate contest is finally decided, it will come down to a thing Republicans love to hate when it's convenient - mail-in voting.
But in this case, the mail-in ballots still being counted will prove to be decisive for either Mehmet Oz, the Donald Trump-backed TV doctor, or David McCormick, the former hedge fund executive. Both candidates are waiting for the remaining non-Election Day votes to be tabulated, with Oz holding a slight lead. The race was too close to call as of Wednesday morning.
"Based on how many uncounted absentee ballots there are and the margin by which Dave has won them so far, that's why we are confident of victory. Dave will win this race," tweeted a top McCormick strategist, Jeff Roe.
At their election night parties on opposite ends of the state, both Oz and McCormick were confident.
"When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win. We are making a ferocious charge, but when it's this close, what else would you expect? Everything else about this campaign has been tight," Oz said.
"We're gonna win this campaign … right now we have tens of thousands of mail-in ballots that have not been counted," McCormick told his supporters.
Pennsylvania Republicans had a much different reaction in 2020, when former President Donald Trump prevailed with the bulk of in-person votes, but President Joe Biden won the mail-in vote, propelling his close victory in the state and Trump's subsequent failed frenzy to prove there was voter fraud.
The day after the 2020 election, Trump and his allies accused Democrats of trying to steal the election and sought to stop Pennsylvania's continuing tally of absentee ballots as they overcame his lead over Biden.
Pennsylvania allows no-excuse absentee voting, meaning any registered voter can vote by mail for any reason. But GOP lawmakers have been working furiously to overturn the 2019 law they helped pass, challenging it in a lawsuit now pending before the state Supreme Court.
With roughly 95% of votes counted, Oz was leading McCormick by a fraction of a percentage point - fewer than 2,000 votes. Oz was stronger in Election Day voting, while McCormick outpaced him in the mail-vote count. Any margin of victory less than 0.5% triggers an automatic recount under state law.
Trump's big 2020 lie and baseless fraud claims are still driving forces in the GOP, even if candidates haven't made it an excuse for the 2022 results. Pennsylvania Republicans on Tuesday elected Doug Mastriano to be their gubernatorial nominee. Mastriano, a state senator, has been a major force in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and was in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. He has called for an end to the state's no-excuse absentee voting law.
Oz has previously embraced Trump's ideas about election fraud, saying in an April debate that Republicans "can't move on" from the 2020 election. But the day before this year's election, Oz refused to say the 2020 vote was stolen.
"I want to be careful. Republicans are about fixing things," Oz told a TV anchor Monday, arguing the state still needs to "diagnose" the roots of voters' fraud concerns.
In a Bloomberg feature, McCormick hedged when pressed about election fraud. "I think that within Pennsylvania, certainly there were lots of doubts," he said.
None of the GOP Senate candidates blamed Tuesday's close contest on voter fraud - even Kathy Barnette, a hard-right commentator who refused to concede a 2020 U.S. House race she lost by nearly 20 points due to baseless fraud allegations.
"In order to steal the election away from me, they lied, and they did a lot of it," Barnette told her supporters Tuesday.
Even with her third-place finish assured, Barnette didn't give up or congratulate her opponents.
"They haven't called it," she said. "I'm not conceding, so don't report it."
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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