DANVILLE, Pennsylvania — After years in the public eye in serious roles including director of the CIA and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo reminded Pennsylvania Republican primary voters he still has the same barnstorming qualities that first got him through a bruising primary in Kansas in 2010, when he bested four rivals for his party's nomination to represent the state's 4th Congressional District.
It was a seat Pompeo went on to win in that fall’s midterm wave election, which swept the Democrats out of power in the House, prompting then-President Barack Obama to call the losses a "shellacking."
Pompeo was here in this Montour County borough to articulate to attendees at a rally for Republican U.S. Senate primary candidate Dave McCormick why the Washington County native is the best conservative to vote for in next month’s primary.
“You all will start voting in just a handful of days here in Pennsylvania,” he said to a packed crowd of supporters and curious seekers gathered for the rally at the spacious barn located on the Frosty Valley golf course grounds.
“The nation’s watching. The nation is watching us work to reclaim the greatness of our country, and sending someone, someone like Dave McCormick, to Washington, is something you can be proud of. You will provide enormous contributions to this nation, and I know Dave will,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo’s entrance into American politics began at the dawn of the Tea Party movement in 2010, before it was hijacked by opportunists looking to exploit it for personal gain. Largely supported by voters of all political backgrounds who were frustrated with the establishments in both parties for their lack of fiscal restraint, this was the Tea Party at its most authentic.
The movement broke apart only to reemerge and help form the current conservative populist coalition that attracts not just disaffected working-class voters but also suburban, rural, Hispanic, and middle-class voters who are alarmed about the economy, the crisis at the border, crime, national security, and our education system.
Pompeo, whose relationship with McCormick extends to their days at West Point Academy, said McCormick uniquely represents the leadership needed in all of those areas in the same way he did at the beginning of the Tea Party.
McCormick, a western Pennsylvania native and Gulf War combat veteran who was a Treasury Department official during the second Bush administration, has crawled his way up the polls since his announcement in January, eventually topping celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. McCormick said he is not deterred by former President Donald Trump’s decision to endorse the longtime New Jersey resident in the primary.
Pompeo said endorsements can have a profound impact, but not in the way perhaps many people think.
“My sense of endorsements is, they're not important for who the endorser is but what the endorser can say about the person that they are supporting,” he said in an interview with the Washington Examiner outside the barn before the event.
Trump made it known at a North Carolina rally two weeks ago that Oz’s celebrity status was one of the major reasons he endorsed him. "Tremendous, tremendous career," Trump said. "And they liked him for a long time. That's like a poll. You know, when you're on television for 18 years, that's like a poll."
Trump also listed Oz’s Harvard degree, his New York Times bestselling book prowess, and the fact that Oz said the former president looked to be in extraordinary health as reasons he backed him.
Everyone, including the Oz and McCormick camps, expects Oz to get a bump in the polls following the Trump endorsement — whether or not he sustains that benefit will determine the election. Pennsylvania primary elections will be held on May 17 of this year.
Pompeo, who endorsed McCormick months ago, said he is bringing a solid argument to conservative voters with his support. “I think the people of Pennsylvania get a chance to hear from me tonight about the reasons, the rationale, the knowledge that I have about who Dave is and what he can deliver. And I think that's what Pennsylvanians will really get a sense of tonight,” Pompeo said.
“My sense is they are taking this information all on board, and they will come to see these various candidates and Dave as a true patriot. I think that will shine through and prove something that will make his campaign successful — and ultimately, most importantly, make Pennsylvania successful,” said Pompeo.
Pompeo said that it is really important for the state, the country, and the conservative movement to elect capable people who have been tested and who will not just be a senator but who will lead. “There is nobody I can think of with the experience that would drive Pennsylvania forward and America forward in the way that Dave will. He's a conservative believer — that matters an awful lot to me as well," Pompeo said.
McCormick, who joined Pompeo outside the Frosty Valley barn for the interview, said having the former secretary of state's backing was already meaningful to him, but having him come to Pennsylvania and join him on the road to talk to voters made it even better. “Mike is a role model, a role model for public service, a role model for courage under fire, a role model for putting country first above all other things.”
Despite having held roles in presidential administrations, Pompeo started his career as a disrupter in the party. “I get asked often what I'm most proud of that we did in our four years. My answer is almost always that we were prepared to do the right thing, even if nobody had done it before. Even if, whether it was a Republican or a Democrat, foreign policy establishment that said, ‘No, you can't do a deal with the Israelis because the Palestinians will get in the way,' and, 'You can't go meet with Chairman Kim,'” he said of his tenure as secretary of state.
“We did all the things that one says you couldn't do, we did. And it turned out those were really good for America. We were prepared to evaluate it, make a good decision, and then execute no matter what the norm had been. And so we broke a lot of glass, and I think the world was better off. I know America was better off,” said Pompeo.
McCormick said the Abraham Accords are a perfect example of throwing out the playbook and thinking outside the box in terms of how to change a region and the security of the world fundamentally.
“I think it will stand out as one of Secretary Pompeo's and one of Donald Trump's greatest legacies and something we should all be proud of,” McCormick said, adding, “It is a perfect example of what we were just talking about, which is: There's a traditional way of beating our head against the wall for decades, and all of a sudden, a brand new way of thinking about it changes the course of history. So it's a great role model for the kinds of creative leadership and conservative thinking that I think Mike and others have brought to the fore, and I hope to be able to contribute to in the Senate.”
On Trump’s decision to choose Oz over him, McCormick said, “I've got huge respect for the president. I think he did great things for our country, great things for Pennsylvania, and popular across the state for that reason," he said.
McCormick said that of course Trump's endorsement matters. "At the same time, though, this is Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvanians have a certain expectation for the people that are going to lead them. And I match up exactly with what Pennsylvanians need. I see that every day on the campaign trail, and I don't think Oz or any of the others do it in the way I do. That's why I think my campaign has momentum, and that's why I'm very excited about the future,” he said.
McCormick spent the early part of the day meeting with voters at the Country Creamery in Kratzerville and the Lewisburg Farmer’s Market and touring Strong Industries in Northumberland before his big campaign rally with Pompeo at the Frosty Valley Resort in Danville.
Oz held his first public event since Trump endorsed him over a week ago Thursday in Bucks County, speaking alongside Dr. Ben Carson and conservative talk radio host John Fredericks. He was in Snyder County the previous day touring Wood Mode customer cabinetry and giving a series of Fox News and Newsmax cable news hits.
The most recent polling in the state, conducted by Franklin & Marshall College, shows Oz with 16% of the support, McCormick with 15%, conservative commentator Kathy Barnette with 7%, real estate developer Jeff Bartos with 6%, George Bochetto with 2%, and a considerable 49% undecided.
The leader for the Democrats remains Lt. Gov. John Fetterman by 41 percentage points, followed by Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta; only 26% of Pennsylvania Democrats remain undecided.