With 48 hours to go before Pennsylvania Republicans select a nominee for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, the final poll of the primary season gives the lead to TV physician Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Oz, who has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, leads in the just-completed Emerson poll of likely voters by 28% to 24% over TV commentator Kathy Barnette. Running third in the six-candidate primary is hedge fund billionaire David McCormick with 21%.
When the 15% who said they were undecided were asked who they were leaning toward, Oz's lead grew to 32%, Barnette to 27%, and McCormick to 26%.
McCormick, who has been running third in most recent polls, will pour an estimated $500,000 of his own fortune into a final TV saturation of the state beginning this weekend.
Although Trump had endorsed Oz much earlier in the race and made an appearance on the physician's behalf in Western Pennsylvania last month, the former president last week underscored his support as polls showed Barnette surging and within striking distance of the lead.
"Kathy's going to be a lot of trouble. I think she's going to be a lot of trouble," Trump told a teleconference of Keystone State supporters Thursday night, referring to questions raised in the press about her military service and length of residency in the state. "She may have a great future, but she's totally an unknown. We can't have that. So, a vote for Oz is a vote for victory, and a vote for anyone else is a vote for giving away an election that really has to be had. We have to take a majority in the Senate."
On Friday, Barnette shot back on Twitter: "Remember when they told you President Trump was unelectable and then he won? … The 'experts' have no idea."
Many of Trump's supporters in Pennsylvania voiced their disagreement with his endorsement of Oz and criticism of Barnette.
"Donald Trump is a fine one to talk about someone not being vetted and having things in their background," said former State Rep. Curt Schroder of Chester County seemingly in reference to the Access Hollywood tape of Trump using foul language about women that surfaced a few weeks before the 2016 election.
Trump also stunned many Republicans over the weekend when he announced his endorsement of controversial State Sen. Doug Mastriano for governor. A vigorous supporter of Pennsylvania not certifying the results of the 2020 election, Mastriano unsuccessfully sought an investigation into the vote count in the presidential contest two years ago.
Shown by most polls to be leading the crowded GOP gubernatorial primary, Mastriano has been campaigning with fellow conservative firebreather Barnette and the two share a fervent network of grass-roots volunteers.
Could Trump's blessing of Mastriano, pundits and pols help Barnette as well?
"It could," G. Terry Madonna, the premier pollster in Pennsylvania, told Newsmax. "Many of Trump's backers know Mastriano and Barnette have been running as a team."
Like the other states that have so far held Republican primaries, turnout in Pennsylvania Tuesday is expected to be noticeably higher than in recent off-year elections. Republicans have also demonstrated a preference for showing up at the polls in person rather than voting by mail.
Given the uncertainty and volatility of the race, few — if any — are predicting a winner.
"I've seen slick ads for all of them — Oz, McCormick, and Barnette — all weekend," historian Irv Gellman, author of a much-praised trilogy of books on Richard Nixon and a resident of West Chester [PA], told Newsmax. "And I don't have a clue who's likely to win."
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