In what is no doubt a relief to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano announced he will not run in Pennsylvania’s upcoming US Senate race. Mastriano, a Republican who was soundly defeated by his Democratic opponent in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election last year, had been mulling a bid for months.
The Thursday announcement creates a prime opening for David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive recruited by McConnell to challenge incumbent Democratic senator Bob Casey. (McCormick is coming off a narrow primary loss to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in last year’s Senate race in Pennsylvania, which was ultimately won by Democrat John Fetterman.) While Mastriano’s absence may bode well for McCormick, the likelihood of Donald Trump again winning the presidential nomination has reportedly raised concerns among McCormick’s team, who would prefer not to share a ticket with the former president. (Trump, for his part, has expressed open disdain for McCormick and swooped in to help Oz secure the primary victory.)
Mastriano’s retreat also marks a positive development for the Republican establishment more broadly, given that competitive races have not generally favored far-right ideologues. McConnell said as much following last year’s midterms, attributing the party’s lackluster performance in key races to poor “candidate quality”—an apparent shot at the firebrands and loyalists boosted by Trump.
Despite a highly favorable map for Republicans this cycle—Democratic senators are up for reelection in three states that Trump won in both 2016 and 2020 (Montana, West Virginia, and Ohio)—McConnell has echoed his same concerns. “We could screw this up, and we’re working very hard to not let that happen,” he told CNN earlier this month, noting that his aligned super PAC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will intervene in any primary where it is “necessary to get a high-quality candidate.”
In Montana—where Democratic senator Jon Tester will face an uphill battle for reelection—Tim Sheehy, the preferred candidate for McConnell and NRSC chair Steve Daines, is reportedly nearing an announcement. A wealthy businessman and former Navy SEAL, Sheehy is a much better fit for the GOP establishment than the outsiders endorsed by Trump last year. As for West Virginia, McConnell and Daines have already secured a Senate bid from Governor Jim Justice. Should he survive the primary, Justice will face Democrat Joe Manchin—one of the most unpopular senators in Washington—in a state that Trump won by nearly 40 points in 2020.
The field is much hazier in Ohio, where Democratic senator Sherrod Brown is seeking his fourth term. On the Republican side, Frank LaRose, Ohio’s secretary of state; Dave Yost, the state’s attorney general; and Representative Warren Davidson are all considering bids but have yet to announce in what could prove a crowded primary. Though, according to CNN, Republican leadership in Washington would be content with a number of primary outcomes, a calculus that likely has to do with Ohio’s steady march toward the right in recent years.