Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, left, accompanied by former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa., Friday, May 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Election 2022 Senate Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, left, accompanied by former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa., Friday, May 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

With a recount underway, the celebrity surgeon is positioning himself as the victor over David McCormick in the GOP primary. A new ruling by the Supreme Court could make Oz’s claim a reality.

If you were wondering how Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary race for US Senate might influence the celebrity surgeon, wonder no more.

Even though the razor-thin lead Oz holds over former hedge fund CEO David McCormick — the initial tally had Oz ahead by 922 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast — triggered an automatic recount, Oz is declaring himself the GOP’s presumptive nominee for Pat Toomey’s US Senate seat.

“I am blessed to have earned the presumptive Republican nomination for the United States Senate,” Oz said in a video posted to his campaign website. “I want to take a moment to express my deep thanks to the people of Pennsylvania who have joined me so far in this journey and supported my campaign.”

To be clear, Oz hasn’t won anything yet. But the US Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to temporarily block the counting of some mail-in ballots in the state could bode well for Oz.

An order from Justice Samuel Alito paused a lower-court ruling in a lawsuit over a disputed 2021 local court election that would have allowed the counting of mail-in ballots that lacked a handwritten date.

The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia had ruled that the state election law’s requirement of a date next to the voter’s signature on the outside of return envelopes was “immaterial” and no reason to throw out such ballots.

Based on that ruling, the state had advised counties to count those ballots in the race between McCormick and Oz, and McCormick promptly went to court to force counties to follow through.

As McCormick scrounges for ballots to make up the gap with Oz, Alito’s order could freeze McCormick’s lawsuit in Pennsylvania state courts.

Pennsylvania’s Department of State — which oversees elections — did not immediately say Tuesday whether it will change its guidance to counties on how to handle the ballots.

The Supreme Court’s action, called an administrative stay, freezes the matter until it can give the case further consideration. There is no timeline on the high court’s undertaking and the clock is ticking for counties to submit the recount results to the Department of State by the deadline of noon on June 8.

McCormick’s campaign insisted that Alito’s order does not affect its case in the state’s Commonwealth Court and that the federal appeals court opinion “remains the persuasive authority” on the federal Civil Rights Act provision on which it based its decision.

McCormick has been doing better than Oz among mail-in ballots, and his campaign has said it counted about 860 undated Republican mail-in ballots received by 65 of the state’s 67 counties. Counting the undated ballots will not put McCormick over the top against Oz, but it could help narrow the race.

Some counties have already agreed to count the undated mail-in ballots, while others have not, saying they are waiting for legal clarity.

The state law requires voters to write a date on the envelope in which they mail in their ballots. However, the handwritten date is not used to determine whether the ballot was cast on time, since the envelope is postmarked by the post office and timestamped by counties when they receive it.

In any case, counties have acknowledged accepting ballots with wrong dates.

Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court declined McCormick’s request to intervene Tuesday, just after a judge in the lower statewide Commonwealth Court heard three hours of arguments in the case.

In the meantime, McCormick’s campaign on Tuesday asked the Commonwealth Court for a hand recount in 150 precincts across 12 counties.

McCormick’s campaign said it was targeting precincts where there was an unusually large proportion of machine-read ballots that recorded no vote in the Senate GOP primary. That could point to errors in the electronic scanners, McCormick’s campaign said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.