Pennsylvania dispatch: Senate GOP race heads for official recount as gubernatorial picks stake out issues for November
© JURIST / Jaclyn Belczyk
Pennsylvania dispatch: Senate GOP race heads for official recount as gubernatorial picks stake out issues for November

Lauren Ban is a rising 2L at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and JURIST’s US Bureau Chief. 

Pennsylvania’s primary elections took place May 17, some nine days ago now. Here’s what we know so far: the Democratic and Republican candidates for the gubernatorial race are decided, as is the Democratic candidate for the US Senate race is decided.

Here’s what we still don’t know: who will be the Republican candidate for the US Senate race.

The election was supposed to determine which candidates represented the Democratic and Republican parties in November’s general election. Going into the primary, all eyes were turned towards Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial and US Senate races. Neither the gubernatorial nor the US Senate race had incumbent candidates (candidates who currently hold office) running this election cycle. Issues such as abortion, gun rights, and election procedures—among others—dominated state-wide conversation. As a result, Pennsylvanian voters faced a crowded field of newcomer candidates in both races, all claiming to offer the solution to Pennsylvanians’ most pressing concerns. 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro easily snagged the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, in part because Shapiro ran an uncontested race. Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano, on the other hand, beat out a crowded field of nine for the Republican nomination. Shapiro and Mastriano stand on opposite ends of many key issues going into November’s general election. 

Once it became clear the governor’s race would be between Shapiro and Mastriano, Shapiro posted a tweet claiming Mastriano would “ban abortion, end vote by mail, and rip away our freedoms.” Mastriano is a proponent of anti-abortion measures, having introduced a Heartbeat Bill to the Pennsylvania Senate floor in 2019. Shapiro and Mastriano have also wildly different stances on Pennsylvanians’ voting rights. What is notable about voting rights in the gubernatorial contest is that in Pennsylvania, the governor is responsible for certifying election results. Mastriano previously challenged Pennsylvania election results, reiterating former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged against him. Shapiro, as AG, filed multiple lawsuits to prevent state senators—like Mastriano—from accessing voter information to investigate 2020 election results. While other issues may arise before November, as it stands now abortion and voter rights dominate discussion of the guberantorial race between Shapiro and Mastriano. 

While one side of the Pennsylvania US Senate race remains in question, what is clear is that Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is the Democratic nominee. What is still not clear is who will secure the Republican nomination – businessman David McCormick or TV-personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Fetterman prevailed over the three other US Senate candidates for the Pennsylvania seat. Fetterman ran a strong progressive campaign promoting access to abortion, elections free from large corporate donors and gun control. Just days before the election, however, Fetterman suffered a stroke. Fetterman learned of his nomination while in the hospital recovering from a pacemaker implant surgery. Hailing from Braddock, Pennsylvania, Fetterman offers Democrats a chance to unite working-class voters with progressive voters through his campaign platform and Rust Belt background.

While the Democratic nomination is set, the Republican nomination could not be more in question. As primary election night wore on, it became increasingly clear that the race to watch was between Oz and McCormick. At the end of the night, the vote count was too close to predict a winner. As votes have continued to roll in, due to issues in Lancaster County and provisional and absentee ballots, the vote margin between the two candidates has only narrowed.

As of the time of this report, Oz leads McCormick by only 902 votes (0.07 percentage points) out of 1,343,643 reported ballots. The Pennsylvania Department of State (DOS) estimates that about 10,000 ballots remain to be counted, but it is unclear how many were cast by Republican voters. Another 860 Republican mail-in ballots are also still outstanding, which are currently the subject of litigation.

Either way, the margin between Oz and McCormick is narrow enough to trigger Pennsylvania’s recount law (0.5% margin). McCormick filed a suit this week in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court requesting the court compel the DOS to count the contested mail-in ballots. Oz, obviously, opposes McCormick’s request. The recount is projected to last as long as June 8. JURIST will continue to provide updates as further results are announced.