Liz Peek: Pennsylvania Senate Primary Showcases Trump’s Impact, Biden’s Impotence

Stop the presses! Donald Trump is running for office again! Actually no, he is not. But Americans might be forgiven for thinking so.

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The liberal media has put Trump front and center in primary races across the nation. They are hoping that Trump’s favored picks will suffer a slew of defeats, thus showing the former president out of touch and out of power.

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It is a foolish strategy. Trump-favored candidates’ success rate to date is a stunning 39-to-1. Yes, many of those winners were incumbents facing little opposition, but even in toss-up races, most of Trump’s picks have prevailed.

If Trump’s candidates do well in the current round of contests, the former president will be emboldened, not diminished. Meanwhile, the spotlight on Trump contrasts sharply with how invisible President Joe Biden has been during this primary season. The Hill recently ran a piece titled, “Biden flexes power in primaries to boost moderates” that caused much hilarity on Twitter.

Right-leaning commentators noted that Biden’s abysmal approval ratings suggest he has little “power” and that his ability to “boost moderates” is fanciful.  In fairness, The Hill story acknowledged that Biden’s participation has been quite limited.

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The senate primary contests in Pennsylvania showcase both Trump’s impact and Biden’s impotence.

The race to replace retiring Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania is key. It could determine whether Democrats maintain control of the senate beyond this year.

Trump has famously endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz in the GOP primary, a hugely successful physician and TV personality who has annoyed some conservatives for having embraced certain moderate positions in the past. Because of Trump’s backing on April 9, Dr. Oz went from ten points behind hedge fund manager David McCormick to gaining the lead eleven days later, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.

A new Emerson survey shows Oz currently leading McCormick by six points and also well ahead of surging conservative firebrand Kathy Barnette, whom Trump has dismissed as unlikely to win in the general election.

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The liberal media is working hard to undermine Dr. Oz. They are frantic that Trump’s candidate not prevail, probably because Oz has enormous name recognition and also apparently polls well with black voters, who admire his long-time friendship with Oprah Winfrey. Both those advantages could help him win the senate seat come November.

While Democrats accuse Trump of pandering to celebrity, the reality is that the Harvard-educated Oz is extremely bright and capable. He may lose some votes from the right because of his squishiness on gender or abortion issues but could win them back from independents. He is, in short, an excellent candidate.

(So, for the record, is the highly accomplished David McCormick. In Pennsylvania, Republican voters have two strong choices.)

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has theoretically stayed neutral in Pennsylvania’s Democrat primary, but is thought to favor establishment moderate Conor Lamb over the progressive in the race, state Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. In 2018, Biden campaigned with Lamb, likening the younger man to his beloved son Beau, who died of brain cancer. Lamb won a special election in a GOP-held district that year and has been endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as the more electable of the two candidates this fall.

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Fetterman, who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016, has been critical of Biden and earlier this year initially turned down a chance to appear with the president, signaling his lack of support. More recently, he has begrudgingly said he would “embrace” Biden, though he still rails at the president’s stalled agenda.

While Trump’s favored candidate in the Pennsylvania race appears to be leading, Biden enthusiast Conor Lamb is trailing badly, now down by more than thirty points (The race has been rocked by Fetterman just recently suffering a stroke. The candidate has assured the public he will stage a full recovery).

Trump’s critics have painted his candidate choices as careless; they accuse him of putting his own grievances about the 2020 election above the best interests of his party and the country. They hope his picks will lose, costing Trump some authority in his party.

In some races, those critics may be right. In Georgia, for instance, Trump endorsed former Senator David Perdue in the race for governor, hoping to defeat incumbent Brian Kemp. Kemp earned Trump’s enmity by not supporting his claims of voter fraud after the 2020 election, but he is a popular governor and looks to have a substantial lead in the race.

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However, in down-ballot races in the Peach State, according to a survey by the SPIA Survey Research Center at University of Georgia, a Trump endorsement appears to carry considerable heft. For instance, in a match-up in the race for Secretary of State, where Trump has endorsed Jody Hice over incumbent Brad Raffensberger, who also refused to back Trump’s claims about the Georgia election, Trump’s support bumps up Hice’s lead by over 30 points.

It isn’t just Democrats hoping that Trump’s candidates will stumble. Republicans like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, both of whom appear hopeful of running for president in 2024, are also waging what might be considered proxy contests in this primary season. Pence has climbed on the Kemp train in Georgia, while Pompeo is backing McCormick in Pennsylvania.

Neither endorsement appears to have changed their candidate’s prospects, but both Pence and Pompeo have further separated themselves from President Trump, which may have been their purpose.

Trump will likely score a number of wins in upcoming primaries, infuriating rivals from all sides and leaving the door open to another run in 2024. However, it is not primary season that will determine whether Trump will seek another term in the Oval Office. That will be up to Joe Biden, who is currently doing all he can to ensure another Trump campaign.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.