Congrats, Pennsylvania — You made Mitch McConnell’s final four.
In an interview with CNN, the Senate’s GOP leader laid out what he believes is the most likely path for Republicans to regain control, and it runs through four states: Montana, West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
McConnell and many GOP pundits say Republicans are on track in West Virginia, where popular Gov. Jim Justice has announced he plans to run for the seat currently held by Sen. Joe Manchin. The two-term Democrat has not said if he will run for reelection next year in a state Trump carried by 40 points in 2020.
The other states are less settled, particularly Pennsylvania, where Republican strategists believe Dave McCormick would have the best chance to stop Democrat Sen. Bob Casey from winning a record fourth term. But McCormick may have to get past state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who polls show remains popular with GOP primary voters despite his crushing defeat in last year’s gubernatorial race against now-Gov. Josh Shapiro.
According to CNN, McConnell and the NRSC “are expected to go all-out for McCormick, whom the GOP leader called a ‘high-quality candidate.’”
And what about Mastriano? “I think everybody is entitled to run. I’m confident the vast majority of people who meet Dave McCormick will be fine with him,” McConnell said.
“The Senate GOP Leader understands what nearly all Republican leaders here know,” Republican strategist Christopher Nicholas told DVJournal. “Only Dave McCormick can give Casey a run for his money in 2024.”
There has been little polling about a GOP primary, but the available data give Mastriano a lead. Pennsylvania GOP pros say the passion for Mastriano in the MAGA section of the party remains strong. At the same time, losing the Senate seat in 2022, particularly to John Fetterman, a left-of-center candidate with significant health issues, sent a shockwave through the state GOP, one source told DVJournal.
“There is no ‘MAGA’ magic,” the source said. “If they really don’t care about winning [the general election], then we just have to find a way to beat them.”
Republicans may need to pull out all the stops in Pennsylvania. In Montana, another state Trump carried big, popular incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D) has already said he will run again, giving his party its best chance of holding the seat. And while Ohio has been trending red for more than a decade, incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is a populist Democrat in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders. He may be particularly tough to beat, as well.
So even though Democrats have to defend more than twice as many seats as Republicans next year (23 to 11), McConnell laughed when asked if he was confident about the GOP’s chances.
“No, no – I’m not,” McConnell said. “I just spent 10 minutes explaining to you how we could screw this up, and we’re working very hard to not let that happen.”