David McCormick hasn't announced another bid for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in early August that the Army veteran and former Bridgewater CEO, who narrowly lost the 2022 Republican Senate primary to Mehmet Oz, is "not in a rush" to declare his candidacy to face off against incumbent Democrat Bob Casey and is "being cautious about the decision."
Democratic opposition researchers? Not so much. They have hit the ground running in an effort to collect damaging information on the would-be GOP candidate in what is certain to be one of the most competitive Senate races of the 2024 cycle.
One of those researchers, former 60 Minutes producer Marley Klaus Dowling, has set off both confusion and alarm bells among McCormick acquaintances, including current and former Bridgewater employees, leaving some with the false impression that she is a working journalist.
Klaus Dowling, herself a Democratic donor and the founder of TBD Research, which raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2022 election cycle for research and strategic consulting, has appeared on these people's doorsteps—presenting herself, at various points, as a "fact-checker," according to one; as a researcher, according to another; and as a reporter, according to a third.
The DSCC has already shelled out $80,000 to the firm this year, indicating that the committee's opposition research efforts are well underway—and clearly focused on McCormick's candidacy, with researchers popping up in several different cities.
Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund, makes headlines on a daily basis. It is not unusual for the firm's employees to receive media inquiries, and at least one of the people contacted was left with the impression that Klaus Dowling was working on a story or book about the firm. More unusual, however, is for a researcher or reporter to materialize unannounced on employees' doorsteps.
"She identified herself as a fact-checker but was evasive on who she was fact-checking for," said one former Bridgewater employee. "She said she was just trying to get to know David McCormick." The former employee, who said she rarely worked directly with McCormick and never worked for him, told the Washington Free Beacon that she "made it clear to [Klaus Dowling] that I don't know David that well and I don't want to talk to anybody."
Klaus Dowling persisted in a manner that the former employee described as "aggressive."
"She tried to pick up packages on my doorstep and bring them in my house," this person said. "She started asking me questions: What was David like as a manager? Was I surprised he ran for office? Was I surprised he became so right-wing extremist [sic] and started kissing Trump's ass? She started asking about the culture at Bridgewater: 'Sounds like it was an abusive culture…'"
Though the mechanics of the business are rarely visible to the public, opposition research is a standard feature of political campaigns. In every campaign cycle, both major parties employ researchers to dig into the background of the opposing party's candidates, looking for potentially damaging information that can be pitched to the media, used in campaign advertisements, or deployed in debates.
But political operatives say misrepresentation is not just unethical but ultimately harmful to the achievement of the party's objectives.
"An operative should either enhance the committee's ability to elect 'our' candidates or they should be terminated," said Rob Collins, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "This is unethical behavior at best."
In another instance, Klaus Dowling appeared three times at the home of a second former Bridgewater employee, according to a source familiar with the situation, though the homeowner said on the first occasion that she was not interested in speaking with Klaus Dowling. A third said Klaus Dowling identified herself as a researcher and declined to leave a business card.
Neither Klaus Dowling nor the DSCC responded to a request for comment.
McCormick declined to comment.
The Democrats' embrace of aggressive tactics to extract compromising information on their political opponents comes at a time when the methods employed by opposition researchers are in the spotlight. A Puck News report in mid-July revealed the lengths to which Democratic operatives went to use opposition research to drive Peter Thiel—who had bankrolled the Republican Senate campaigns of Ohio's J.D. Vance and Arizona's Blake Masters—out of politics.
Like the effort to collect information on McCormick, reporter Theodore Schleifer detailed Democratic operative Jack Bury's efforts to "conduct dozens of interviews with people who might know Thiel" and to pay millions for dirt on him. At times, Schleifer wrote, people felt "cornered or misled" about the contours of the project.
Bury had extensive conversations with Thiel's ex-boyfriend, Jeff Thomas, who reportedly became so torn about participating in the project that he emotionally unraveled and in March jumped to his death from an apartment in a Miami high-rise.
Prior to founding TBD Research, Klaus Dowling served as director of communications and media for the nonprofit California Endowment and founded her own production company, Ghost Productions. She said on Twitter in February 2022 that she was changing career paths to "do what I can with the skills I have to protect democracy."
Should McCormick enter the race, the matchup will be expensive and closely watched, as Republicans look to take back the Senate majority. The Cook Political Report right now places the race in its "Lean Democrat" column, but with Democrats defending far more competitive seats than Republicans, the party is likely to face tough questions about where to spend money and where to pull back.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has made clear that the Pennsylvania race is a priority, headlining a fundraiser for Casey earlier this year at the Harvard Club in New York City.