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Dave McCormick might live part time in Connecticut, but he’s campaigning all over Pa.

McCormick is zigzagging across Pennsylvania to make the case that with his deep roots in the state he should represent it in the Senate — even if he spends some nights in Connecticut.

Dave McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, stands with his father, James McCormick, and his wife, Dina Powell, as he is inducted into the PIAA District 4 Wrestling Hall of Fame at Williamsport Area High School on Feb. 24.
Dave McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, stands with his father, James McCormick, and his wife, Dina Powell, as he is inducted into the PIAA District 4 Wrestling Hall of Fame at Williamsport Area High School on Feb. 24.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

As Dave McCormick launched his 67-county campaign bus tour on a Saturday afternoon in Lititz, he told supporters there that he was going to “live on the bus,” until November.

He flew back to Connecticut later that evening.

It’s the sort of dichotomy that Democrats have hammered McCormick over as they try to portray the Republican candidate as a wealthy outsider posing as a Pennsylvania resident in his quest to oust Democratic Sen. Bob Casey. Similar criticism was levied against longtime New Jerseyan Mehmet Oz in the 2022 race for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.

But McCormick, who owns a house in Pittsburgh, has much stronger ties to Pennsylvania than the celebrity doctor, and he’s zigzagging across the state eight months ahead of the general election to make the case that he can relate to its residents and should represent them in the Senate — even if he spends some nights in Connecticut.

“I believe my odds will improve if I have a chance to connect with people across the commonwealth,” McCormick said as the luxury motor coach chugged up I-476 toward Wilkes-Barre last month. “I won’t be able to shake every hand but I want … every community to be able to say, ‘Hey, this guy was here.’”

McCormick is a candidate straddling two worlds — his small-town Northeast Pennsylvania upbringing, which he’s trying to highlight, and his career as a mega-successful former hedge fund CEO who is friends with some of the country’s wealthiest and most influential people. Like several other GOP Senate candidates running this year, he faces vulnerabilities around his residency and investments but also has the funding to compete in an expensive race.

Since launching his bus tour in February, McCormick has already visited 38 counties. The night he flew back to Connecticut, he went to see his 17-year-old daughter, who is finishing high school there. He was back in Pennsylvania less than 36 hours later for multiple days of events, touring a machinery shop in Pittston, speaking at a roundtable discussion about fentanyl in Lackawanna County, and spending Valentine’s Day with his wife in Philadelphia.

Such an aggressive campaign schedule ahead of an uncontested primary is rare but also evidence of the resources he has, and the ground he wants to make up.

Despite his dropping more than $14 million of his own money into his primary campaign in 2022, a February survey showed that McCormick was still unknown by about 30% of likely Pennsylvania voters. Polls show he trails Casey, a three-term incumbent, by 5 to 10 points in a race that could determine control of the Senate.

“I cannot win this without a movement,” McCormick told a table of veterans at a coffee stop along his route. “I need your help.”

‘Shikellamy and Shickshinny’

At the Triton Hose Company firehouse in Tunkhannock, McCormick introduced himself as a seventh-generation Pennsylvanian to Republicans gathered for the annual Lincoln Day dinner.

“My dad was born in Indiana County, my mom was born in Punxsutawney … I played football and wrestled in places like Shikellamy and Shickshinny,” he told the crowd.

McCormick grew up about 60 miles from Scranton on a Christmas tree farm near Bloomsburg, where his father, James, was president of Bloomsburg University. James McCormick went on to lead the state higher education system, and his family is still well-known in the area.

McCormick stresses that many of his years spent outside of Pennsylvania were spent serving his country, as a cadet at West Point, a paratrooper in Iraq during the Gulf War, and later in George W. Bush’s administration, where he served as a top international economic adviser.

Exactly how much time he spends in Pittsburgh now is the question that has dogged him on the trail. He bought a $2.8 million home in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood ahead of his unsuccessful 2022 run in the GOP Senate primary, but he also rents a $16 million mansion in Westport, Conn., near where his youngest daughter lives with his ex-wife.

McCormick is remarried to Dina Powell, a former Trump administration official and former partner at Goldman Sachs. The couple have six daughters between them. An Inquirer analysis put the total value of their assets at $116 million to $290 million, and possibly much more.

“I think it’s gonna solve itself,” McCormick said of the residency attacks. “My Pennsylvania roots, my connection to Pennsylvania is just so factually indisputable.” And he thinks traveling out of state to see his daughter is also something people get. “I think half of Pennsylvanians are divorced so I think people understand that.”

Democrats have accused McCormick of being dishonest about living in the state. He doesn’t have a homestead exemption on his Pittsburgh home, which typically indicates a primary residence. He also bought the house through an LLC originally registered in Delaware. It was recently reregistered in Pennsylvania.

He’s used his Connecticut address on car registrations and campaign donation paperwork, and last year he conducted several media interviews from Connecticut. He voted in a Pennsylvania election for the first time in 16 years during the 2022 Republican primary, when he was on the ballot, voting records show. McCormick reported on his campaign finance filing that he spent $37,000 on private flights from September through December.

Those are the kinds of details that, taken together with gaffes such as mispronouncing Yuengling or admitting to a lot of time spent with donors, have led to more general carpetbagger attacks, which can stick in parochial Pennsylvania.

“David McCormick is lying to Pennsylvanians about where he lives, spending tens of thousands of dollars on private plane trips, and bragging about spending half his time outside of Pennsylvania,” Casey campaign manager Tiernan Donohue said.

McCormick’s supporters argue that his financial and global experience make him well-equipped for the Senate and that his roots make him relatable and charismatic.

“The guy’s a Pennsylvanian,” said Doug McLinko, a Bradford County commissioner, after joining other supporters to sign McCormick’s bus. “He fits in in any hunting camp in Bradford County like a glove.”

Donna DePue, a retired human resources leader at Procter & Gamble, said after McCormick’s remarks that she thinks people appreciate him as “someone who’s hardworking, not trying to tag along on anyone’s coattails.”

“Biden left here when he was 8 years old,” DePue said of President Joe Biden’s often-promoted ties to Scranton. “And he still says he’s a Pennsylvanian.”

‘I’m more successful than I ever thought’

McCormick doesn’t talk much on the trail about his time at Bridgewater Associates, the global hedge fund he led, which invested heavily in China. But he also doesn’t hide who he is, making connections between parts of life on Connecticut’s Gold Coast with voters he meets along the Northeast Extension.

Sipping coffee with veterans in Palmerton, a former Marine brought up the high cost of gas.

“Dina’s on the board of Exxon,” McCormick noted, gesturing to his wife.

As the veterans talked about the unexpected bonds within military service, McCormick told a story about finding out his friend — the CEO of Lockheed Martin — flew troops into Desert Storm around the time McCormick served in the Army there.

“I’m more successful than I ever thought I’d be,” he said in an interview later. “Dina’s incredibly successful and I’m not ashamed of that. … I’m going to embrace that and not gonna be shy about it.”

McCormick also spent time listening to veterans lament the long distances between VA hospitals in rural areas, a lack of support for veterans struggling with mental health challenges, and the rising cost of running small businesses.

When he got back on the campaign bus, the TV onboard was playing CNN coverage of an undocumented immigrant charged with killing a nursing student in Georgia.

Border security is one of the issues he hears about the most on the trail, along with the economy.

“That is the defining issue,” McCormick said of the border. “People are feeling vulnerable. … They feel the fear even if they may not have experienced it yet.”

‘From Bloomsburg High School’

McCormick walked into a district finals wrestling match in Wilkes-Barre High School in a puffer jacket and shiny brown leather boots.

“You look like a freakin’ movie star!” said Rocky Bonomo, a local wrestling legend who knows McCormick from wrestling circles back in the 1980s.

“I don’t think he’s a politician,” Bonomo said of McCormick later. “He’s just a real man and we need real men who will lead with strength and honor dignity and character.”

Another former wrestling buddy, Ken Chertow, called him “a salt-of-the-earth guy,” as the sounds of the wrestling match filled the gymnasium. “And these are hardworking, down-to-earth people. For him to come here, it shows he’ll care about all of us.”

McCormick says a lot of what he learned about leadership and discipline came from wrestling. So his last stop of the day was a full circle moment: induction into the PIAA Wrestling Hall of Fame at Williamsport High School.

He stood holding a plaque center court with his father and wife smiling beside him as an emcee introduced him on a crackling mic.

“From Bloomsburg High School ...” the emcee said as he rattled off a list of wrestling accolades — a 30-5 record, a two-time NCAA Division I qualifier at West Point.

The ceremony was an encapsulation of what McCormick is trying to show on the trail: He is from Pennsylvania. He knows Pennsylvania and, at least in this gymnasium in Williamsport, Pennsylvanians seem to know and like him.

As the bus tour goes on he’ll try to counter the out-of-touch millionaire branding with events like this. Though even that night, the label ironically stared him in the face.

Williamsport High’s mascot is the Marching Millionaires — named for the lumber barons who lived there in the 1890s. The name was emblazoned on flags in the gym and the seats the inductees sat on.

And as McCormick’s bus pulled away, it passed school banners that read: “It’s a great day to be a Millionaire.”