Why Pennsylvania points to Donald Trump being the 2024 Republican nominee

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Donald Trump has endorsed TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's hotly contested race for the Republican nomination - AP
Donald Trump has endorsed TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's hotly contested race for the Republican nomination - AP

Republican primary elections in Pennsylvania this week were an early rune for 2024.

When deciphered they point to Donald Trump once again being the party's presidential nominee.

The highest-profile Trump-backed candidate in Pennsylvania was TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who is seeking the party's nomination for a Senate seat.

With the vast majority of votes counted, Dr Oz appeared to be heading for a recount against a mainstream Republican, former hedge fund chief executive Dave McCormick.

But regardless of whether he squeaks through, his performance shows the persisting depth of Republican support for Mr Trump.

Dr Oz got 31 per cent of the 1.3 million votes cast, but 25 per cent went to the so-called "ultra-MAGA" candidate, political commentator Kathy Barnette.

Together, their combined "Trump vote" accounted for 55 per cent. Mr McCormick got only 31 per cent.

Pennsylvania Republican US Senate candidate Dr Mehmet Oz speaks at his primary election night watch party in Newtown, Pennsylvania - Reuters
Pennsylvania Republican US Senate candidate Dr Mehmet Oz speaks at his primary election night watch party in Newtown, Pennsylvania - Reuters

In a late-night appearance on election night, Dr Oz notably thanked Mr Trump before his family or campaign team.

"God bless you sir, for putting so much effort into this race," he said.

"I will make you proud."

Meanwhile, the race for the Republican nomination for state governor was a landslide for the Trump-endorsed, retired Army colonel Doug Mastriano.

Mr Mastriano, 58, is an arch-loyalist, having been outside the US Capitol when it was stormed on January 6, 2021, and leading efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in Pennsylvania.

Several competing establishment Republican candidates rallied around one of their number in an attempt to stop him, but to no avail. He won by 24 percentage points.

On a night when several other states also held primaries, not all Trump-backed candidates across the country won.

But it was clear there is no other Republican figure whose endorsement comes even close to carrying such weight with primary voters, who will decide the 2024 nomination.

There is a vast amount of ground to make up for any Republican seeking to challenge Mr Trump in a campaign that will begin in earnest in about a year.

For Mr Trump, Pennsylvania was crucial in 2016, when he won it by 40,000 votes, and in 2020, when he lost it by 80,000.

His road back to the White House would have to run through the state of Joe Biden's birth. This week's primary results did show that a Trump 2024 campaign would once again encounter difficulties in the major population centre of the Philadelphia suburbs, a costly Achilles' heel in 2020.

Both Dr Oz and Mr Mastriano fared poorly there as Republican primary voters favoured more moderate candidates.

Val Biancaniello, a member of the party's state committee in suburban Philadelphia, said: "It is very difficult for someone like me to rally behind Doug Mastriano, who is going to get his butt kicked [by his Democrat opponent] in November because he is a far-right extremist."

Donald Trump backed celebrity TV star Dr Mehmet Oz in the Senate primary - Bloomberg
Donald Trump backed celebrity TV star Dr Mehmet Oz in the Senate primary - Bloomberg

In his victory speech Mr Mastriano said he was not a far-right candidate, adding: "I repudiate that. That is crap."

Democrat strategists said they were actually encouraged by Mr Trump's continuing hold over the Republican party, as demonstrated by the performances of Mr Mastriano and Dr Oz.

They believe they can beat Mr Trump's surrogates for the Senate and governorship in November, and Mr Trump himself in 2024. One veteran Democrat strategists said the results showed Mr Trump "owns" the Republican party.

Another said: "You don’t win Pennsylvania [in 2024] by winning the Republican base."

Some senior Republicans in Washington believe Mr Trump's continued focus on questioning the 2020 result is "not a winning message" for 2024.

They want him, and candidates he endorses, to talk about the economy and border issues instead.

Senator Lindsey Graham said; "I don't think 2020 is what people are going to want to think about."

However, the results this week suggest many Republican voters in Pennsylvania disagree with that.

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