Will Mehmet Oz or David McCormick win in Pennsylvania? Gaming out the remaining votes

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In a move jarringly reminiscent of the 2020 election, Donald Trump on Wednesday urged his preferred candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate race to simply declare victory in a tight race before all the votes were even counted.

Setting aside for a moment how anti-democratic that is, the former president has reason to worry.

Trump-backed television doctor Mehmet Oz on Wednesday saw his lead shrink from about 2,700 votes to about 1,200, as mail-in votes that can’t be counted before Election Day and other votes were added to the tallies. And at this rate, it seems possible that former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick could overtake Oz, as McCormick’s campaign has repeatedly predicted he will.

A little more than 20,000 votes were added to the totals in the 24 hours between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning, with McCormick gaining about 1,500 votes — in large part thanks to his superiority on mail ballots. That means that, for every 1,000 votes counted, he’s gaining about 70 on Oz. If that rate held, he would overtake Oz after about 17,500 more votes were tallied.

It’s not totally clear how many ballots remain to be counted. The McCormick campaign estimated late Wednesday that about 20,000 mail ballots remain, although other estimates suggested it could be lower — as few as 12,000, PennLive.com reported overnight. The Pennsylvania secretary of state did not provide clarity on this number Wednesday morning. There also appear to be some Election Day ballots remaining in both Pittsburgh-based Allegheny County (strong for McCormick) and Philadelphia (strong for Oz), even as mail ballots make up the bulk of the remainder.

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But McCormick’s gains thus far could somewhat undersell how much he could close the gap. That’s because he’s doing better specifically on mail ballots, which are likely to be an increasing proportion of the ballots that are yet to be counted.

Senior news anchor Libby Casey breaks down the top takeaways from Tuesday’s Pennsylvania and North Carolina primaries. (Video: Libby Casey, Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

McCormick is winning more than 32 percent of mail ballots, while Oz is winning about 23 percent. So for every 1,000 mail ballots (overall, not just the ones counted Wednesday), McCormick is gaining a little more than 90 votes. At that rate, he would overtake Oz after about 13,000 more mail votes were tallied.

So if the number of remaining mail ballots is closer to 12,000, Oz might hold on. If it’s near the 20,000 that his campaign estimated late Wednesday, McCormick would have a good shot at taking the lead.

Whether it will shake out that way remains to be seen. Those Election Day ballots in Allegheny and Philadelphia loom potentially large, and Oz is winning the Election Day vote overall by about a percentage point. In addition, these are statewide numbers, and the final results will depend upon where the remaining ballots come from.

For example, a big chunk of the remaining absentees is in Lancaster County, which had problems with a coding error that delayed the counting. As of Wednesday evening, Lancaster still had about 4,000 votes to be counted, and McCormick was winning them by a significantly smaller margin than he was statewide — by about 1.5 points.

But McCormick gained significantly more ground elsewhere. He closed the gap significantly late Wednesday — by about 500 votes — thanks in part to the addition of mail votes from Beaver County, where he leads Oz on mail ballots by 14 percentage points.

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Regardless, it seems highly likely we’re headed to a contentious recount, which will mean extended scrutiny of the results, which could stretch well into next month. That’s a recipe for disaster, particularly if Trump becomes worried about his favored candidate losing after that process. In recent weeks, Trump’s candidates have lost in the Idaho and Nebraska governor’s race and in a much-watched North Carolina congressional race. And it appears very likely one will lose in the Georgia governor’s race next week, as the results in Pennsylvania continue to shake out.

Trump has already planted the seeds for crying foul over the results. And it’s difficult to see him standing aside while a state whose election results he so extensively and baselessly impugned in 2020 conducts a recount involving his candidate of choice.

And for that, the GOP would have its long-standing humoring of his baseless claims to thank.