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David McCormick surges past Mehmet Oz and other takeaways from a new Pa. Senate race poll

Money in politics is a grubby, ugly business. But a new poll shows that when used effectively, it’s a major factor in any campaign.

Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate David McCormick, left, and GOP primary opponent Mehmet Oz.
Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate David McCormick, left, and GOP primary opponent Mehmet Oz.Read more/ AP

A new poll of Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary gives us one of our first solid looks at a nationally watched campaign, and it shows former hedge fund executive David McCormick vaulting ahead of celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.

The findings mirror what another public survey, from the conservative Washington Free Beacon, showed earlier in the week, and what more than a half-dozen GOP insiders described in recent interviews.

The Fox News poll released late Tuesday found McCormick with 24% of the GOP primary vote, compared to 15% for Oz. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos and conservative commentator Kathy Barnette each had 9%, while former ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands had 6%. Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto and whistleblower Everett Stern got 1% each.

The survey of 960 Pennsylvania Republicans has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

There’s still more than two months before the May 17 primary, but here’s what the poll tells us about the state of the most expensive campaign in the country:

McCormick, Oz, and money, money, money

Money in politics is a grubby, ugly business. But there’s a reason we cover it: Used effectively, it’s a major factor in any campaign.

Oz, widely known as Dr. Oz, began his campaign with a significant lead, based on his built-in name recognition, and he’s spent more on TV than any other Senate candidate in the country.

But McCormick has passed him in support, according to the new poll, and it’s not because he’s suddenly lighting up crowds. It’s because he and an allied super PAC have flooded the airwaves with more than $14 million of advertising, more than half of it being used to blister Oz. Combined, they’ve vastly outspent even the ultra-wealthy TV star.

» READ MORE: Mehmet Oz knows TV. But his GOP opponents are turning Pennsylvania’s airwaves against him.

McCormick has his own money: Until recently he led the world’s largest hedge fund, his wife is a Goldman Sachs executive, and their high-finance friends are underwriting the super PAC.

It’s early, but there are already questions about whether even Oz can match their spending, which seems to have no end in sight.

There’s still a lot unsettled

McCormick’s lead is hardly overwhelming. Only 22% of his supporters said they were certain they’d vote for him, suggesting that while he has helped bring down Oz, he hasn’t sold GOP voters on himself.

And it’s likely more attacks are coming, as rivals dig into McCormick’s record as leader of the mega hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and his past comments praising free trade and China’s economic growth.

About 40% of Oz’s supporters, meanwhile, said they were sure they’d back him, so even though he trails, he may have a stronger base of support.

» READ MORE: The Pennsylvania Senate money race in 8 charts

And 31% of GOP voters still don’t have a preference, the poll found, so there are lots of votes that could still move.

Bartos, Barnette, Sands, and others are hoping Oz and McCormick do so much damage to each other that they can slip in as a more palatable option.

Do we need to still say this? It’s the economy, stupid.

You’ll hear lots of talk among conservatives about cultural flashpoints. But this poll suggests GOP voter concerns are grounded in classic themes: the economy and immigration.

More than 9 of 10 GOP primary voters said inflation, spending, and the economy would have an “extremely” or “very” important role in deciding their primary vote. Second was immigration and border security, at 86% combined.

Some 72% cited issues like abortion and school curricula as extremely or very important, and 58% listed COVID policy as important to their votes.