A Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania is escalating criticism of Democrats over the Israel-Hamas war and has traveled to the Israel-Gaza border to make the case that the Biden administration hasn’t backed Israel strongly enough since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
The criticism by GOP candidate David McCormick reflects the delicate political challenge facing both President Joe Biden and incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in a state Democrats can’t afford to lose in 2024.
Biden, who is seeking a second term as president, has been criticized from the left for being too pro-Israel in his response to its war on Hamas and for not doing enough to address the burgeoning humanitarian crisis among Palestinians in Gaza.
McCormick’s attacks echo those voiced on the GOP’s presidential campaign trail where candidates have portrayed Biden’s policy on Iran — a key financial backer of Hamas — as too weak to frighten what the U.S. calls the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
McCormick said the U.S. should impose sanctions to cut off Iran’s oil sales and mount a more muscular response to attacks on U.S. targets in the Middle East to restore an order upended by what he called Biden administration mistakes going back to an incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The key to America’s role in the world is peace through strength,” McCormick said in an interview Thursday. “And so I think what we’re seeing is the failure of deterrence. I think what we’re seeing is a belief, across the world, among our adversaries, that America’s a little flat-footed. America’s weak.”
Neither Casey nor McCormick are likely to face serious opposition in Pennsylvania’s April 23 primary before facing off against each other in November’s general election.
McCormick’s focus on the issue comes as a barrage of U.S., coalition and militant attacks in the Middle East are compounding U.S. fears that Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza could expand.
The Biden administration’s support for Israel has been complicated politically in other states the president is counting on in his reelection bid. In Michigan, for example, Democrats worry that losing support among the state’s large Arab-American population over the war could damage their prospects. Michigan also has an open Senate seat on the ballot this year.
Pennsylvania and Michigan, along with Wisconsin, are indispensable parts of a “ blue wall ” of Rust Belt states that helped Biden defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020 after Trump won those states in 2016.
In the Senate, Democrats maintain a narrow majority, one that became more perilous late last year with the retirement of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. That makes Casey’s seat even more pivotal to his party’s efforts to maintain control of the chamber.
McCormick’s effort to highlight his support for Israel is unique thus far in this year’s high-profile Senate contests, and it could become a test case for Republicans in fall general election contests.
McCormick hopes to peel off not only swing voters in Pennsylvania, but also members of the state’s relatively large Jewish community who vote predominantly Democratic — but could make a difference in a close election.
Even though the war has divided both Democrats and Jews, taking votes from Casey poses a formidable challenge. The incumbent senator is well-regarded by Pennsylvania’s Jewish community and has been a reliable ally in Congress for Israel and its fight against Hamas.
Vowing solidarity with Israel, McCormick took a two-day trip to Israel where he visited a kibbutz that was attacked by Hamas and met with government officials, hostage families and survivors of the Oct. 7 attacks.