TUNKHANNOCK, Pa. — On the day Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman launched a TikTok account, Republican nominee Mehmet Oz was holding a town hall in a fire station in this small town northwest of Scranton.
It was, in effect, a distillation of the differing styles of the two candidates. The different strategies are at least partly driven by Fetterman having had a stroke in May that has limited his in-person activities (he held a rally in Erie on Aug. 12, and more events are being scheduled).
Thursday night, Oz blasted Fetterman’s more virtual campaign.
“He’s going to allow his handlers to create a hologram of who he is, a fictitious character that looks good on television, but you’re never going to actually see him. And then you’ll be asked to vote, and that is a threat to democracy,” said Oz. “Because we’re supposed to be able to vote for people that we can see and judge with our own eyes, hear with our own ears, identify how they deal with pressure.”
But fundraising and polling data suggests that the Fetterman campaign’s efforts to drive the narrative through social media are working. The Democrat’s campaign entered July with nearly $5.5 million to Oz’s $1.1 million, according to the most recent disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.
Fetterman’s campaign also said it raised over $1 million in just three days last week after an April Oz campaign video showing the Republican in a grocery store produce section went viral. A recent poll conducted for Pittsburgh Works Together, a business and union group, found Fetterman ahead by 18 points.
Democrats are casting Oz as an out-of-touch multimillionaire from New Jersey, and have also seized on a recent Daily Beast story noting that the Republican said he owned two homes when the news outlet reported that he actually owns 10 properties. A made-for-social-media video from the Fetterman campaign featured a game show called “How many houses do you own?” along with the theme song and clips from “Family Feud.”
On Thursday, Oz’s rejoinder was to criticize Fetterman’s “privileged” upbringing.
“My opponent, in his own words, grew up in a environment that was privileged and was paid for, his lifestyle, paid for by his parents until very recently. His house he bought for $1 from his sister. Now, when you have that kind of a life, you have very different expectations and very different beliefs about the role of government,” Oz said.
Oz, best known as a television celebrity doctor, refers often to the success of his medical career and the TV show, but he also likes to talk about how life began for his father in Turkey.
“My father grew up on a dirt floor, and when you’ve got a dirt floor in there you don’t have much, right?” Oz said Thursday, echoing the message he delivered the night before at a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Philadelphia.
Oz on Thursday night did not take questions from the small group of reporters who made the trip to Wyoming County, where there certainly would have been questions about recent Democratic attacks about his real estate portfolio, as well as about the legal standing of former President Donald Trump, whose endorsement revived Oz’s sagging candidacy in an intensely competitive Republican primary.
The candidate himself cited the need to drive to meet a Fox News Channel satellite truck off the highway in order to make a scheduled appearance on Sean Hannity’s TV show as the cause for the abrupt exit.
During the town hall, Oz did respond to several policy questions from attendees, including about veterans and rural issues, and his recent schedule that included stops at agricultural fairs around the commonwealth may have paid off.
“I’ve learned a lot about farming,” Oz said to some laughter when asked about what he has learned on the campaign trail in rural Pennsylvania. “We’ve talked about the wealth beneath the surface of the Earth, but the wealth on the top of it, particularly with our crops is — it’s massive. And our farmers are hurt by a bunch of things.”
Oz then detailed several, including the effect of estate taxes on farmers and the story of an apple grower who ran into a regulatory issue with Pennsylvania over offering tractor rides to children during pick-your-own apple season.
Fetterman and Oz are running to fill the seat being vacated by the retirement of Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, and keeping the seat in Republican hands is an important part of the party’s effort to flip control of the 50-50 Senate.