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The Sweep: Headed Toward a Recount in Pennsylvania
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The Sweep: Headed Toward a Recount in Pennsylvania

It’s too close to call in the Senate primary race between Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.

Recount Time

Right now, GOP Senate hopefuls Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are separated by less than 3,000 votes, or .2 percent, as we send this newsletter. Pennsylvania election law triggers an automatic recount if the top two vote getters are within .5 percent. So that’s almost certainly where we’re headed. 

For what it’s worth, recounts are my speciality. I’ve sat in warehouses for weeks watching hand recounts proceed like molasses. It’s not glamorous, but it is exceptionally fun. So here are my tips for winning a recount:

  1. Be ahead. The best predictor of who will win a recount is who starts ahead in the recount. Duh. Oz is ahead right now. McCormick claims there are “tens of thousands of mail-in votes” that haven’t been counted yet, which he thinks will lean his direction since he was leading in the polls during the beginning of early voting. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But I’d still rather go in ahead than behind.

  2. Plan ahead. We had teams and teams of lawyers in 2012 whose sole job was to prepare for a recount in any given state. On Election Day, everyone had a binder with the phone numbers of the relevant election officials and judges on duty, draft pleadings, and a chain of custody map for how all of the ballots and voting machines would move after polls closed. This should have been done weeks ago … now we’ll see which team did its homework.

  3. Lawyer up. The campaigns are going to need lawyers in every room at every table where ballots are being counted. They’re also going to need a Seal Team Six litigation team who know when to go to court and have the experience and gravitas to sound credible to a judge. Most importantly, though, candidates need a cohesive legal team. The general counsel for a Senate primary race is an election lawyer who knows the FEC regulations, not a courtroom brawler. The best ones called the most ruthless litigator they knew last night and told them it was go time. The general counsel will also understand that his or her role moving forward is totally different. The general counsel is now the consigliere to the candidate who will work with the campaign staff to coordinate volunteers and make sure the communications staff understand what’s going on. They will get the new lawyers up to speed on where they think the votes are. But they will not try to “oversee” the recount. Let the litigation team do its job. It’s why you pay them $1,500 an hour.

Out of Money; Out of Time

Going dark this far in advance of Election Day obviously means that you’re out of money, but perhaps more importantly it means you aren’t bringing in new money either. 

Campaigns are like startups in a lot of respects—especially in terms of the “move fast, break things” vibe around the office. But a tech startup knows how much money it has from its first round of fundraising. A campaign has to make a budget based on a projection of how much money it thinks it will bring in each week from donors, knowing that number will change every week and could experience big surges and slumps along the way. 

A campaign’s overall burn rate can be too high, but it’s also possible to misjudge how much money will come in and when. I’ve seen plenty of campaigns end up with too much money coming in the last few weeks, which is almost just as bad. It means you can’t spend the money efficiently and you’re out of time to bring on more staff. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum is a budget that assumes a fundraising bump as the election gets closer, but the opposite happens as the race slips away. That’s what appears to be happening for David Perdue against Brian Kemp in Georgia. When the polls don’t tighten, the money dries up, the TV stations can’t get paid … and it’s hard to stop the spiral.

Madison Cawthorn Gets the Boot

Three-term North Carolina state Sen. Chuck Edwards narrowly defeated 26-year-old GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn Tuesday evening, ending the congressman’s tenure after just one term that was rife with controversy. The margin was so close that it’s likely North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis’ condemnation of Cawthorn in the lead-up to the primary was a potential game-changer in last night’s primary vote.

Among other scandals, Cawthorn is perhaps best known for a series of sexual assault allegations, driving with a revoked license, deciding last-minute to run in a new district less than a year after he was elected (that map was thrown out and he ended up running in the 11th District), and for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” shortly after Russia’s invasion. Reporters and opposition researchers doubled down their efforts to uncover dirt on the congressman in the months leading up to the primary.

So did the American Muckrakers PAC, which uncovered a series of unflattering stories about Cawthorn, including his attempt to carry a loaded firearm onto a plane. “The most surprising thing is recent staffers contacting us with information,” American Muckrakers co-founder and president David Wheeler told The Dispatch on Tuesday. “Recent staffers, recent donors of Cawthorn’s who are just fed up and didn’t know where to turn, and they didn’t necessarily donate to us, but they wanted to provide us with information or encouraged us to look in a certain direction.”

But before you bid farewell to Cawthorn …

SCOTUS (Non) Effect

House Dems Brace for Some Nasty Primaries

In late April, New York’s Supreme Court struck down the state legislature’s redistricting map, which was set to give House Democrats up to three new seats. Now, House Democratic leaders are looking at a slate of newly drawn districts—and member-on-member primaries—that are all but guaranteed to exacerbate already existing tensions in the caucus. The map’s approval deadline is Friday. 

Politico’s Sarah Ferris has an excellent report explaining several members’ particular frustration with Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, House Democrats’ campaign chairman: “Maloney’s decision to abandon a newly redrawn version of his current swing district — and instead run for a seat that includes most of Rep. Mondaire Jones’ turf — is raising private concerns from across the party that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chief has put himself in an inappropriate scenario: leading the party’s midterm strategy while potentially battling a fellow member.”

(Remember, we covered Maloney’s rocky tenure at the DCCC back in December when one member gave Politico this anonymous quote, “I think Sean Patrick’s ‘leadership’ — and please use air quotes on that — at the DCCC is the reason why we should not have elected colleagues running that organization. Because it’s not about protecting the majority; it’s about Sean Patrick Maloney. … We’ve got a vanity project.”)

And this comes at a time when the DCCC’s internal polling—even after the leaked SCOTUS draft on abortion—is still headed south. 

Doug Mastriano Could Win

At his Election Night party Tuesday evening, Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano didn’t hold back when speaking about the Democratic opponent he will face in November now that he’s clinched the Republican nomination. “The Democrats have a dark vision for Pennsylvania,” he said Tuesday evening.

But he spent far more energy last night assailing a media establishment that he believes has unfairly characterized his campaign. Speaking to his supporters alongside Maryland GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, Mastriano compared his candidacy to Pennsylvania founder William Penn. “Our own founder came here in 1682, after being called names by the media in England” he said, and for being called “an insurrectionist” and “against the king,” he said. “We’re under siege now that the media doesn’t like groups of us who believe certain things.”

He issued a warning to the reporters in the room, particularly those who have tracked his campaign’s unique focus on Evangelical Christianity. (It’s not uncommon for Mastriano’s campaign events to include an hour of Christian worship.) “If you think it’s okay to mock and ridicule us or anyone because of their religious beliefs, we have no time for you, and we will give you no time, and you’ll have no access.” (Read here for Audrey’s dispatch from last night’s event.)

If you’re thinking Mastriano sounds more like a candidate running in a deep red state than purple-ish blue Pennsylvania, you’d be right. And while he was Donald Trump’s pick in the race, he was also supported by … his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro: 

Viewing him as the easiest Republican to defeat in the general, Shapiro and the state Democratic Party sent out mailers boosting him … And while Mastriano spent less than $370,000 on TV ads, the Shapiro campaign pumped more than $840,000 to air a spot that attacked Mastriano as too conservative for voters, an ad which actually boosted him on the right, our Zach Montellaro reported. Case in point: The ad called him “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters” — which, to many GOP primary voters, is a feature, not a bug. 

This isn’t a new tactic. As I’ve noted before, Claire McCaskill perfected the move when she spent oodles of money to get Todd Akin as her GOP opponent in 2012. (She literally published an excerpt from her book in 2015 titled “How I Helped Todd Akin Win — So I Could Beat Him Later”). But I think Charles C.W. Cooke over at National Review Online has summarized my misgivings about such political schemes nicely: 

I do not want to hear a single thing from the Democratic Party about the “threat” that Doug Mastriano presents to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or to the republic in general. I am, from this moment on, not remotely interested in that case. Why not? Because the Democratic Party clearly doesn’t believe a word of it. When one truly believes that a given candidate is a threat, one doesn’t “send out mailers boosting him,” or spend $840,000 on television advertisements designed to improve his standing.

“For a party that claims to care about the fragile state of democracy,” Politico notes, “this is a risky strategy.” Indeed. But, quite obviously, the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania does not really think that the “state of democracy” is “fragile,” because, if it did think that, it wouldn’t have played Machiavellian games in a wave year. 

Democrats may or may not believe it, but I do. I think our democracy does feel a little fragile at the moment, and I would like to see a little more care given by leaders in both parties to electing good people instead of playing candidate roulet to elect their people.

2024 Operative Must Read

Kristen Soltis Anderson and the New York Times are back with yet another focus group. This time it’s 10 Republican voters from Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and I’m not sure I’ve read anything as clarifying when it comes to where I think Republican primary voters are right now when it comes to Trump. Definitely take the time to read the whole thing here, but I’ve pulled out some of the more “wow” moments that stood out to me:  

Kristen Soltis Anderson: There’s a presidential election on the horizon. A show of hands — how many of you would say Donald Trump should run for president in 2024?

[Eight raise their hands.]

Sanjeev: I liked his first term. Not everything he did, but for the most part, I liked him, so I’d like to vote for him again. He’s got that business world perspective that he brings.

Kristen: I think people can see the difference now that he’s not in office and what’s going on. I think when he was in office, people were more focused on him not being very presidential. Now that he’s not in office and we see what is happening, you can see what he did. It’s clearer now.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: I want to ask a slightly different question. If Donald Trump runs for president again and there are other Republicans who are also running for president, how many of you think you would probably choose Donald Trump over other Republicans in a primary race?

[Seven raise their hands.]

Patrick Healy: Is there anyone in the group who did not vote for Donald Trump in 2020 but who would consider voting for him if he ran again in 2024?

Brandon: Well I voted for a third party in 2020. So I think this time around, I’ve seen the things that are happening. And I don’t like what I’m seeing, as far as the direction that the country is headed. So, yes, I’m going to consider voting for him.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: What do you think of when you think of former vice president Mike Pence?

Robert: I think he’s an honest, God-fearing man that probably would do what’s right. Although I don’t know that he’s as firm as Trump, I think he’s an honest man.

Kristen: I don’t think he’s as strong as Trump.

Kim: I lost a lot of respect. I do like him being a Christian man, but he isn’t strong. He doesn’t have the backbone.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Thoughts about Chris Christie?

Kristen: Yeah, don’t like him. I don’t think he’s honest. I think he’s for himself, not for the people, and he’s just a fool.

Justin: With Christie and Mike Pence, I think they’re both career politicians. That’s someone that I don’t want in the office. I’d rather a businessman come to the office.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: What do folks think about Texas Senator Ted Cruz in one word?

Raquel: I donated money to him. He’s pro-life. And he’s on Instagram a lot speaking up against a lot of big money people.

Justin: The first thing that came to mind was when he flew to Mexico and got caught during Covid. I think he was a hypocrite.

Brandon: I think he would be my second choice. I hope that it would be between him and DeSantis.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: And would DeSantis be your first choice in that matchup?

Brandon: Yes, because DeSantis is a little bit stronger. And I feel like we need to regain our standing in the world.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: So my last question then to each of you is: If you had to give the Republican Party some advice, what would that advice be?

Kimberly: I would say stop cowering to the Democrats all the time. Stand up. You have so many people in this country that support you. And maybe we’re just quieter. The media don’t talk about us. But you have a huge base. So stop cowering down to them and stop being intimidated by them. And if they want to play — I don’t want to say dirty games, but — let’s play the same games they play. Stop saying we’re going to take the high road all the time. No. Give it back to them. Say the truth.

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Are there particular things that you think Republicans have cowered over when it comes to —

Kimberly: Trump was really one of those people that was like, “I’m not taking anybody’s crap. And I’m going to give it right back to you. Maybe I tweet about you for 15 days and how much you suck. At least I’m tweeting, at least I’m saying something.”

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.