Pennsylvania’s high-stakes U.S. Senate race between Oz, Fetterman tightens

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Pennsylvania’s high-stakes U.S. Senate race between Oz, Fetterman tightens

Ryan Deto

RYAN DETO   | Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 6:27 p.m.

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AP

Dr. Mehmet Oz (left) and John Fetterman are running to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate.

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After a bruising primary that saw Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz emerge as the GOP nominee by less than 1,000 votes, the celebrity surgeon and TV personality’s general-election campaign got off to a slow start.

That left an opening for Democratic nominee John Fetterman to define Oz early on as a carpetbagger from New Jersey and attack him effectively using social media.

But with about two months left in the race, Oz appears to be gaining some traction while getting more attention for his immigrant back story and moderate stances on same-sex marriage. He’s also effectively gone after Fetterman for balking at participating in debates and issues such as crime.

The Fetterman campaign rejects this narrative, and said Republicans are just coming to aid Oz’s struggling campaign.

After being down double-digits in polls from earlier in the summer, Oz has clawed back to within just a few percentage points of Fetterman. A CBS News/YouGov poll from last week showed Fetterman leading Oz, 52% to 47%, while a poll from the Trafalgar Group from this week had Fetterman up, 48% to 46%.

The margins of error in those polls were 3.8 percentage points and 2.9 points, respectively.

This week, the Washington Post editorial board backed Oz’s call for Fetterman to agree to a debate, and criticized Fetterman for lacking transparency about his health problems associated with his stroke recovery, mirroring Oz’s rhetoric on the issue.

Fetterman had already agreed to one debate on an unspecific date, but he finalized a late October date for the debate following the publication of the editorial.

The Philadelphia Inquirer also noted how Republicans believe Oz’s attacks on Fetterman over rising crime and whether his criminal justice reform efforts have been effective have placed Fettterman on the defensive for the first time in the race.

Duquesne University political science professor Lewis Irwin said he has noticed the Senate race tightening over the past couple weeks.

“Oz was pretty far down in the polls, but you can’t always rely on polls too much, because it is more and more about which base comes out to support their candidate,” Irwin said.

The mainline Republican base has been rallying hard for Oz in the past few weeks. Retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey held a press event with Oz, while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Oz’s primary opponent David McCormick campaigned with him.

And the GOP’s conservative wing is helping to boost Oz’s personal brand, especially with suburban voters, whom politicians like Toomey have had success winning over.

Oz has reignited his campaign’s focus on his immigrant roots and how his family has been able to achieve the American Dream. Oz’s parents were born in Turkey, and raised Oz primarily in Ohio, where he was born, and Delaware. At a rally in Monroeville in late August, he spoke about how his family believed America was a place where people from around the world could come to improve their lives.

He also reiterated his support for same-sex marriage and signed onto a letter from GOP leaders who hope Republicans in the Senate will support a bill to protect same-sex marriage rights. The move led to some criticism from some far-right Republicans, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, but it also could help Oz curry some favor with suburban voters.

“Dr. Mehmet Oz believes that same-sex couples should have the same freedom to get married as straight couples and he was proud to join this effort,” Oz campaign spokeswoman Brittany Yanick said.

According to a 2021 PRRI poll, 69% of Pennsylvanians support same-sex marriage, while 28% oppose it.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said Oz is gaining momentum at the right time.

“The Republican Party is coalescing around Oz,” Litzow said.

In addition to support from some well-known Republicans, the campaign arms of the party and its allies are infusing millions of dollars into the campaign to support Oz.

The GOP-controlled Senate Leadership Fund is putting $24 million into the race, according to Politico. And Axios reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which primarily supports Republicans but also gives to Democrats, contributed $3 million to the Senate Leadership Fund specially for Pennsylvania’s Senate race.

Both Oz and Republican leadership are hammering Fetterman over rising crime rates and his criminal justice reform stances, such as wanting to lower prison populations.

These attacks have put Fetterman on the defensive and prompted him to run ads clarifying his positions on crime. Fetterman has criticized Oz for sharing what he has called misleading figures.

Irwin said Oz’s message has resonated with many voters because violent crime is up in many p

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