Dave McCormick, GOP Senate Candidate, Says He Grew Up on a Family Farm. Not Exactly.

By Equipo
12 Min Read

David McCormick’s origin story goes something like this: He grew up in rural Pennsylvania, southwest of Scranton. He baled hay, trimmed Christmas trees and otherwise worked on his family’s farm. And from those humble beginnings, he rose to achieve the American dream.

“I spent most of my life in Pennsylvania, growing up in Bloomsburg on my family’s farm,” Mr. McCormick, now a Republican candidate for Senate, told Pittsburgh Quarterly in 2022.

“I’ve truly lived the American dream,” he wrote in a fund-raising appeal in October. “My life’s journey — from growing up on a farm in Bloomsburg, to graduating from West Point and serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, growing a business in Pittsburgh, and serving at the highest levels of government — reflects that.”

“I grew up on a family farm from the time I was a kid,” he said at the Pennsylvania farm show in January.

But interviews in Mr. McCormick’s hometown, as well as a review of public records, news coverage from his childhood and his own words, suggest that he has given a misleading impression about key aspects of his background.

He has explicitly said and strongly implied that he grew up on a farm, claimed in 2022 that he had “started with nothing” and that he “didn’t have anything,” and he and his campaign have recently described his parents as schoolteachers.

In fact, Mr. McCormick is the son of a well-regarded college president who later became chancellor of higher education systems in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. He largely grew up in the president’s sprawling hilltop residence, which students called the president’s mansion, at what is now Bloomsburg University.

It was a “big old house” that “had all sorts of trap doors and all sorts of history,” Mr. McCormick said in a 2011 interview with the Press Enterprise, a local newspaper.

On campus today, signs of the McCormick family’s influence are abundant: Mr. McCormick and his brother sponsored a serenity garden dedicated to their mother, and a building bears their father’s name.

The family did own a farm several miles from the school, which Mr. McCormick called the “McCormick Tree Farm” in a holiday-themed ad released before his 2022 Senate bid. But it was also often known locally as a place where his mother raised Arabian horses, something of a family hobby, according to local news reports from the 1970s and ’80s. (Mr. McCormick still owns the farm, he has said. But he rents out part of it, according to a woman who said she had rented from the family for roughly three decades.)

Mr. McCormick, a former hedge fund executive who is part of an unusually wealthy crop of Republican Senate candidates, is challenging Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, in one of this year’s highest-profile races for control of the chamber. He faces no Republican opposition and is set to become the nominee on Tuesday.

Mr. McCormick, who has already faced scrutiny over whether he resides in Pennsylvania, appears to have massaged facts from his biography during the current contest and his unsuccessful Senate primary bid two years ago.

As Linda Cromley, 76, walked into a performing arts center at Bloomsburg University on Sunday evening, she expressed irritation with the way Mr. McCormick had portrayed himself.

Ms. Cromley, who said she had lived in the area for nearly 60 years and believed she may have overlapped with the McCormicks at church for a time, gently mocked his past advertising —“‘I grew up on the Christmas tree farm out in the country,’” she paraphrased in a faux-wistful tone — and said he seemed “disingenuous.”

“He had a very privileged childhood,” said Ms. Cromley, a retired nurse and a Democrat who stressed that she did not always vote the party line. “He didn’t grow up a poor kid. Which doesn’t mean that he has to — but don’t pretend that you were.”

Mr. McCormick declined an interview request, instead sharing pictures of a reporter’s emailed requests for comment on social media.

He did clarify that “growing up, we lived on campus at Bloomsburg State College and my parents owned a farm 10 minutes down the road,” adding that he had summer jobs baling hay “and trimming Christmas trees at nearby farms.”

He also noted that his parents began their careers as schoolteachers in the traditional sense of the term: His father taught at Punxsutawney High, he said, and his mother taught fourth through sixth graders at a public school near Pittsburgh.

And in a statement, Mr. McCormick dismissed questions about the discrepancies in his biography as “hair-splitting, frivolous, cherry-picked distortions of what I have always said.”

His father, James H. McCormick, was named by Gov. Milton Shapp to lead the college in Bloomsburg in 1973. The family moved into Buckalew Place, the college’s president’s residence, that year, when David McCormick was 8.

Elizabeth Gregory, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCormick, said his parents believed that the salary when James McCormick first became president was $29,000. That would be more than $200,000 today.

David McCormick “had a nice upbringing there at the college,” said Diane Bankus, 67, who said that she occasionally babysat for the McCormick children when she was a college student, and that his parents were beloved and accessible on campus.

She watched Mr. McCormick and his brother, Doug, at the president’s residence, she said, where the boys would play hide-and-seek. She often took them to eat at the campus dining hall or out to the student union.

“You would have never known their father was the president of Bloomsburg,” she said. “They mixed well with the college population. Everyone had fun with them.”

A few years after moving to Bloomsburg, the McCormicks bought land that would become the family farm, and continued to expand it for decades, public records show. It is now around 600 acres, Mr. McCormick has said.

During a recent visit to the property, which includes a bright red barn, Mary Gummerson, who is in her 70s, told The New York Times that she and her husband had rented part of the farm for roughly 35 years. She said they and a niece lived on the property, along with animals including horses, a dog named Alvin and 149 cats (Ms. Gummerson rescues them).

The McCormicks also spend time on parts of the property, she said, keeping a collection of antique cars. Ms. Gregory did not respond to questions about how much of the farm is rented out and how much time Mr. McCormick spends there.

Mr. McCormick sometimes rode by on his Harley motorcycle, Ms. Gummerson said, adding that the McCormicks also liked to drive a gator, which she described as a “very nice golf cart.”

She called the family “tree lovers” and praised them for preserving a significant area of land, rather than developing it. She noted that Mr. McCormick was “not actually a farmer” but spent time in a rural setting growing up.

“They were hunters and he grew up in a farm kind of environment,» she said. “But no, he’s not planting corn.”

Certainly, Mr. McCormick has said on multiple occasions that he does not consider himself a farmer, though at a round-table discussion this year, he did refer to himself as a “farmer that’s got a big farm in Columbia County.”

And in some instances he has offered a more complete picture of his background. In his 2023 book, in which he discusses his family’s time at the school, he noted that he grew up “in town,” rather than on a farm, but that his family also owned farmland.

Supporters seem unbothered by the fact that he does not always draw that distinction.

“He’s one of us,” said Keith Eckel, a former president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, adding that Mr. McCormick had conducted extensive outreach to farmers. “Growing up in rural Columbia County, he worked on farms. He loaded hay. He understands the challenges that agriculture has.”

Todd Kreisher, a friend of Mr. McCormick’s since middle school, said that he recalled spending time at both the farm and Buckalew.

“I never went there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m at the president’s house,’” he said, emphasizing that Mr. McCormick had worked summer jobs like the rest of their friends.

He was “a humble, hard-working kid, and we were raised the right way — like, nothing was given to us,” said Mr. Kreisher, who had a career in the U.S. Secret Service and now runs corporate security for B.M.W. in the Americas region.

The McCormicks, he said, “were as much a part of the community as anybody else.” He added, “They weren’t isolated at the university or anything like that.”

Mayor Justin Hummel of Bloomsburg, a Democrat, said that as in many college towns, there tended to be a social divide between people associated with the university and the rest of Bloomsburg — a classic “town-gown” tension.

But, he noted, Mr. McCormick attended public schools in the area, propelled to West Point by his high school wrestling success. He is indeed a hometown boy, Mr. Hummel said.

“You grow up with people of all sorts of strata in a small town like this, so no, I don’t think that it’s any knock against him to say that he’s from Bloomsburg,” Mr. Hummel said.

Still, he said of the McCormicks: “I don’t know them to be farmers. I know them to be academics.”

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