Pa. Senate GOP primary fight over candidate’s business record

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Pa. Senate GOP primary fight over candidate's business record

Businessman David McCormick, a potential leading candidate in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania’s open US Senate seat, is drawing heat over the layoffs of 50 Pittsburgh workers by a firm he ran in January 2003.

The online auction service FreeMarkets Inc, which McCormick led as president from 2001 and as CEO from 2002, made the cuts weeks before McCormick visited India in February 2003 and announced 100 job openings in New Delhi.

McCormick’s foes call it outsourcing. His friends call it realigning company operations. But the layoffs are an early flashpoint in a wide-open Republican race whose field includes businesswoman and former Trump ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands — and potentially Oprah Winfrey protégé Dr. Oz.

“McCormick made his fortune by destroying the lives of patriotic Pennsylvanians and shipping their jobs away to China and India for cheap labor,” a GOP operative involved in the primary told The Post. “Even worse, his firm Bridgewater Capital has billions of dollars invested in Communist China.”

But McCormick’s allies rushed to his defense and told The Post that the Pittsburgh layoffs weren’t as closely linked to the India office opening as the timing suggests.

David McCormick
David McCormick is a potential leading candidate in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania’s open US Senate seat.
Jay Mallin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Karen Kovatch, the corporate communications director at FreeMarkets Inc at the time, said that the company canned the US workers because it was changing its focus and that the jobs lost in Pittsburgh weren’t the same as the ones created in India.

“Eighteen years ago, in 2003, FreeMarkets Inc realigned its operations to focus on customer-facing activities that would position the company more strongly for growth,” Kovatch said. “As part of this, some administrative and managerial roles were unfortunately eliminated and the affected employees laid off. We later announced plans to establish a Market Operations Center in India to support online auctions for our customers on a 24/7 basis. The two moves were totally unrelated, and the opening of the India office resulted in no layoffs of American workers.”

Many Pennsylvania Republicans view McCormick as a possible “savior” and the best chance to keep the seat in GOP hands after the retirement of Sen. Pat Toomey. McCormick and his rivals received a boost Monday when Trump-backed Sean Parnell suspended his campaign Monday after a judge awarded custody of his children to his estranged wife, who had alleged abuse during their custody fight.

The 45th president had endorsed Parnell in September, and it was not immediately clear Monday whether Trump would back another contender.

“David McCormick will quickly emerge as the frontrunner,” Greg Manz, a former spokesperson for the state Republican Party, recently told Politico. “His public policy bona fides are second to none and he will showcase a preeminent fundraising prowess.”

The full moon shines over a portion of Pittsburgh's skyline where the city's Gulf Tower at left is illuminated beside the peak of the Koppers building on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2000.
The online auction service FreeMarkets Inc made the cuts weeks before David McCormick visited India in February 2003 and announced 100 job openings in New Delhi.
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

But the primary is dividing Trump allies and clarifying a broader struggle over the direction of the conservative movement, with McCormick’s detractors branding him a “globalist” who puts business ahead of the blue-collar concerns in the Rust Belt that fueled Trump’s 2016 upset victory.

McCormick is married to former Trump White House official Dina Powell McCormick, a Goldman Sachs executive who previously served as a deputy national security adviser.

His allies aren’t taking attacks on his career lightly.

“When we bought FreeMarkets, Dave insisted on keeping jobs in Pittsburgh,” says Bob Calderoni, the former CEO of Ariba, which bought FreeMarkets in 2004. “It really mattered to him as part of the transaction. In fact, he pushed for us to move jobs from California to Pittsburgh. Dave was one of the most important leaders in the revitalization of Pittsburgh — he worked hard to create and save jobs in the city.”

At the time of the sale, there were about 500 workers at FreeMarkets’ Pittsburgh office.

Dr. Mehmet Oz
Dr. Oz is a potential candidate for the field of Republican candidates.
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

“As an early investor and board member at FreeMarkets, I saw firsthand the company’s explosive growth, and particularly Dave’s role in creating and importing many hundreds of jobs in the Pittsburgh economy,” says Sean Sebastian, a partner at venture capital firm Birchmere Ventures.

“His and the company’s accomplishments were foundational to the next generation of tech startups in the region, with many FreeMarkets alums now in leadership roles in dozens of companies,” Sebastian added.

Democrats also have a crowded primary, with candidates including US Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) — who defeated Parnell in 2020 and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

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