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David McCormick is taking his first public steps to run for Senate and join a tumultuous GOP primary

David McCormick's campaign would add another significant figure to a GOP primary upended by the downfall of the previous front-runner, Sean Parnell, and the entry of celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz.

Republican David McCormick is taking his first public steps toward entering Pennsylvania's critical U.S. Senate race. He's seen here in 2008, then as the U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, speaking during a news conference at the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Sao Paulo.
Republican David McCormick is taking his first public steps toward entering Pennsylvania's critical U.S. Senate race. He's seen here in 2008, then as the U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, speaking during a news conference at the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Sao Paulo.Read moreAndre Penner / AP

Hedge fund manager and Gulf War veteran David McCormick is taking his first formal steps toward joining Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race, making moves that could soon add another prominent Republican to one of the country’s most critical campaigns.

McCormick on Monday plans to file IRS paperwork creating the “Friends of Dave McCormick Exploratory Committee,” a precursor to a what could become a campaign entity, advisers told The Inquirer. And on Tuesday he plans to launch a statewide television ad featuring the potential candidate speaking on camera. The more than $1 million ad, which McCormick is paying for himself, according to an adviser, will push him into the public eye after he has spent weeks meeting privately with GOP leaders and donors.

The two steps represent McCormick’s first public indication of his intentions. He is widely expected to join the GOP Senate primary race early in the new year, though allies insist there’s been no final decision.

His campaign would add another significant figure to a race upended by the downfall of the previous front-runner, Sean Parnell, and the subsequent entry of celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz. Republicans are still searching for a standout candidate in a race that could help determine control of the Senate.

Parnell had won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement but dropped out less than three months later amid domestic-abuse accusations by his estranged wife, throwing the race open.

Oz, who splashed into the race Nov. 30, is also heavily spending on television and, like McCormick, appears poised to use significant sums of his own wealth to fuel his campaign. Earlier GOP entrants include Montgomery County real estate developer Jeff Bartos; Carla Sands, the Trump administration’s former ambassador to Denmark; and Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator.

With the GOP searching for a candidate who can keep the fiercely competitive seat held by Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who is retiring, some Republican insiders have spent weeks promoting McCormick’s potential to party leaders and journalists. They point to his glittering resumé: He’s a West Point graduate who received a Bronze Star while serving in the first Gulf War, got a doctorate from Princeton University, led a business based in Pittsburgh, served in the George W. Bush administration, and is now chief executive of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates. He could potentially drop millions of his own money into the race.

But McCormick, 56, is untested politically and relatively unknown outside of political circles (and even inside those circles some Republicans have heard of him only in recent weeks). And like some others in the race, McCormick has been living outside Pennsylvania in recent years, in Connecticut, and is moving back now that there’s an open Senate seat. He grew up and previously worked in Pennsylvania, where his family has long-standing roots, and recently bought a home in the Pittsburgh area.

» READ MORE: Sean Parnell is out. What’s next for Republicans in Pa.’s 2022 Senate race?

McCormick has never faced the scrutiny of running for public office, and rivals are already pointing to potential vulnerabilities, including job cuts he oversaw in the Pittsburgh region and his hedge fund’s massive investments in China — two issues that could be particularly toxic among the GOP voters who gravitated to the America First message driven by Trump.

McCormick allies say they can point to hawkish positions he has taken on China. His wife, Dina Powell McCormick, was a top national security adviser to Trump, and McCormick himself was considered for positions in the administration.

» READ MORE: Mehmet Oz says he’s a Pennsylvania resident now. So why’s he still hanging out in his New Jersey mansion?

The entity McCormick is creating with the IRS will allow him to raise and spend money for his campaign while he considers a launch. Any donations or spending would have to be publicly reported if he became a candidate.

While there are spending thresholds that, under law, require potential candidates to file disclosures, McCormick advisers said his initial ad won’t qualify as campaign activity, due to its content.

McCormick, encouraged to run by a cadre of longtime GOP operatives, has been meeting with party leaders and donors, and drawing early support from some top insiders.

“Dave just is a very impressive human being when you meet him,” said Pasquale “Pat” Deon, a Bucks County businessman and longtime power player in Pennsylvania GOP politics. Recounting a meeting with McCormick, Deon said the potential candidate pledged, “I’ll spend whatever it takes to do it.”

Earlier this month Republican National Committeewoman Christine Toretti cohosted a meet-and-greet for McCormick at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Club, effectively affirming her support. Such backing can help smooth McCormick’s introduction to other key Republican figures, and potentially send signals to voters in next year’s primary.

Allegheny County GOP chairman Sam DeMarco came away from the Pittsburgh event speaking highly of McCormick’s potential, saying he “exemplified strength and experience.”

And former Pennsylvania Republican chairman Rob Gleason said in an interview Sunday that he plans to endorse McCormick, citing his ability to fund his campaign and his status as veteran.

“He’s gonna be a heckuva candidate,” Gleason said. “I think he can really connect with the people.”

With his new home near Pittsburgh, McCormick would be the only Republican candidate from Western Pennsylvania, a potential advantage in a primary, when a local affiliation can help sway voters facing an array of choices.

But some of his potential rivals argue that elite party support isn’t the boon it once was, especially after the Republican upheaval brought on by Trump and rejection of many old-guard figures.

“Dr. Oz is a political outsider campaigning across Pennsylvania talking directly to voters about how he wants to empower them and stand up to the establishment and big government,” said Oz campaign manager Casey Contres. “I don’t have anything to add about other candidates in the race or considering running that care more about what the elites think of them rather than the voters.”

Oz’s supporters, including an early congressional endorser, U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R., Pa.), have pointed to his celebrity status and name recognition as advantages that follow the Trump mold.

A McCormick adviser, Mike DeVanney, said grassroots conservative “want a guy who can win.”

McCormick would be the third ultra-wealthy GOP contender to join the race after long living out of state. His family, though, has been in the state for generations and he grew up in Bloomsburg, where his father was president of what was then Bloomsburg State College and later chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Oz has lived in New Jersey for decades, after getting his medical and business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and says he’s now renting his in-laws’ home in Montgomery County. Sands, who also has significant personal wealth and is funding much of her own campaign, lived for years in Southern California. She moved back to the Harrisburg area, where she grew up, earlier this year. She previously ran the investment firm founded by her late husband, Fred Sands, Vintage Capital.

Bartos is also spending his own money to back his campaign.

Sands has emphasized her own ties to Trump, while Bartos’ camp has stressed his work to round up grassroots support, including recently naming campaign “captains” in all 67 counties. He also has backing from Treasurer Stacy Garrity, the only woman holding statewide elected office. Barnette is running as a Trump ally, having backed many of his false election claims.

McCormick’s entry would add another name to a primary mix that might still be evolving.

» READ MORE: See who's running in Pa.'s 2022 U.S. Senate race

Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto is preparing to formally enter the race, saying in a recent email to potential supporters, “I’m seeing a GOP field develop that has, at best, sporadic attachment to the state and complete attachment to big globalist money — from China to Hollywood.”

Bochetto, who made the legal case to keep the Christopher Columbus statue in South Philadelphia, added, “I want to be a real Pennsylvanian for all the other real Pennsylvanians.”

Former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, from the Pittsburgh area, is also said to be considering a run for Senate.

The Democratic field includes Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and emergency room doctor Kevin Baumlin.