Pennsylvania Senate matchup set, but Democrat remains sidelined

Fetterman recuperates as Oz tries to unite GOP

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman speaks with a guest during a rally at the UFCW Local 1776 KS headquarters in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., on April 16, before he suffered a stroke. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman speaks with a guest during a rally at the UFCW Local 1776 KS headquarters in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., on April 16, before he suffered a stroke. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 7, 2022 at 2:47pm

Corrected June 8 | The race for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and former television personality Mehmet Oz is official, but the campaign has moved, for now, into a more muted phase after tough primaries in both parties.

While Fetterman remains off the campaign trail recovering from a stroke last month, his campaign launched two ads on Tuesday. One will run on broadcast channels in Pittsburgh and Scranton, while the other is airing on broadcast stations in Johnstown and Altoona and on Fox News in the Johnstown, Pittsburgh and Scranton media markets.

“People have been trying to label me my entire life. I do not look like a typical politician. I don't even look like a typical person,” Fetterman, who is 6-foot-9 with a shaved head and tattoos, says in one of the spots.

In the ad set to run on Fox, the campaign calls out Washington: “They wrote bad deals that sent away our jobs, approved the drugs that kill our kids. We need help; they just talk. Not John Fetterman,” a narrator says.

Fetterman won the May 17 Democratic primary easily, but he was in a hospital when it happened, recovering from the stroke and the implantation of a pacemaker and defibrillator. Last week, he said he had been diagnosed with a heart condition in 2017 but hadn’t followed up with doctors afterward. 

“It will take some more time to get back on the campaign trail like I was in the lead-up to the primary,” he said in a statement. His wife told CNN on Tuesday he may be off the trail for the rest of this month.

Oz had declared victory after taking a narrow lead in the primary, but his closest rival, David McCormick, did not concede until Friday night. McCormick said he would support Oz, who got just 31.2 percent of the Republican vote and now faces the task of uniting the party ahead of the November election. 

“Now that our primary is over, we will make sure that this U.S. Senate seat does not fall into the hands of the radical left, led by John Fetterman,” Oz said in a statement last week.

The election for the seat GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey is giving up could decide control of the Senate, and the race is expected to be one of the most expensive in the country. Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has already spent millions of dollars of his own money on the campaign, and outside groups have pledged to spend heavily in the Keystone State. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reserved $24.6 million in ads in Pennsylvania beginning in mid-September. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has already launched an ad criticizing Fetterman as “too radical.” 

That kind of message could drive Republican voters who backed someone else to support Oz. Matthew Levendusky, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said Republican voters would be unlikely to vote for a Democrat, especially if television ads and visits from top surrogates drive home the stakes in the race. 

“For a McCormick supporter, if they don’t vote and Fetterman wins, then they’ve helped to make [Sen. Charles E.] Schumer majority leader, Bernie Sanders a committee chair, and so forth, and that’s a high price to pay,” he said in an email. 

Democrats, however, are emphasizing Oz’s time living out of state, and they say he is out of touch.

“The only positive thing that came out of this vicious GOP primary is that Pennsylvanians got to see the real Mehmet Oz: he’s a carpetbagging scam artist who will say and do anything to sell himself, has pocketed millions from Big Pharma, and wants to make abortion illegal,” JB Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC, said in an email.

President Joe Biden won the state in 2020, but the margin was just 1.2 percentage points, and since then his popularity has nosedived.

An expected Supreme Court ruling on abortion could also be a significant factor in the race, said Jean Harris, a political science professor at the University of Scranton. If the court strikes down all or part of Roe v. Wade, that could mobilize female voters in particular, Harris said.

“That is something that is going to mobilize women across the country but even here in Pennsylvania,” she said. “The fact that we have a governor’s race and we have a Republican candidate who is, again, so extreme on both abortion and gun control, I think that will help get people out on Election Day.”

This report was revised to correct the spelling of Matthew Levendusky's name and his university.