PHILADELPHIA– No Senate election in the country has garnered as much money and attention as the hotly contested and at times divisive contest between Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman in Pennsylvania.
And with over a million ballots already cast and Election Day just hours away, the reason is clear: Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s resignation in a state won by President Joe Biden two years ago has left Democrats the best Opportunity presented to grab a seat and save their slim majority. For Republicans, holding the seat is key to overthrowing that majority.
“This race has to be won,” said Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, the Republican Senate’s preeminent super-PAC, which has bombarded the state with tens of millions of ads attacking Fetterman. “We believe if we win Pennsylvania, we’ll win the majority.”
With even optimistic Democrats conceding the party is unlikely to retain control of the House on Tuesday, control of the Senate is arguably the most closely watched struggle of Election Day. Republicans only need a net gain of one seat. Democrats are focused on protecting incumbents in Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire and Georgia and potentially flipping seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio.
But it’s the Pennsylvania race that both parties see as critical. Nearly $160 million is spent on bipartisan ads from Labor Day to Election Day, according to AdImpact, more than any other Senate race.
“The bottom line is, if the Democrats are able to flip a seat currently held by Republicans, there’s probably no way for Republicans to get 51 votes in the Senate,” said Mike Mikus, a West-based Democratic activist -Pennsylvania. “It gives Democrats some breathing room because if one of the incumbents goes down, that’s the buffer. And the opposite is true. If for some reason we can’t win here, it’s going to be a bad night in several states.”
That importance was made clear as Oz and Fetterman criss-crossed the Commonwealth in the final week of campaigning, trying to reach out to voters at the last minute and urging people who had long since made up their minds who to vote for to be their friends now and bring family to the elections.
“It’s a jump ball,” Fetterman said bluntly in Harrisburg on Sunday. “On Tuesday, every single vote counts.”
“I have a job. … Win this race. You’re the key,” said Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the head of the Republican committee tasked with taking control of the Senate, introducing Oz Thursday. “You want a majority in the Senate? Yes. She comes right through Pennsylvania.”
Recent polls show Fetterman with a slight lead, but a narrower lead than in the summer. A Marist College poll conducted in late October through early November found that Fetterman supported 50% of registered voters, compared to Oz’s 44%. A New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters found a similar result: Fetterman at 49 % support versus Oz’s 44%.
Few races across the country have experienced the kind of ebb and flow that has transformed competition in Pennsylvania, where 1,085,353 ballots were cast as of Sunday, according to Catalist, a company that provides data, analytics and other services for Democrats . Academics and non-profit advocacy organizations.
While Fetterman won the Democratic primary in May with ease, taking all of Pennsylvania counties with him, Oz was forced to spend millions in a contentious battle that divided every segment of the Republican electorate and knocked the candidate from submerged favor ratings early in the general election and left paralyzed.
Just days before the primary, however, Fetterman suffered a near-fatal stroke that forced him out of campaigning for two months, impaired his speech and ability to process what he heard, and injected a sizeable unknown in a race that forced the Democrat to to relax in public.
Despite the stroke, Fetterman and his campaign used the summer to build a sizable lead over Oz, capitalizing on his tenuous ties to Pennsylvania, the Republican questions raised about him during the primary, and the Democratic energy surrounding the decision of the Supreme Court Roe v. calf fall. But Oz’s campaign got underway in late summer, aided by millions in outside spending that exposed Fetterman to repeated crime attacks. The surge in spending was followed by polls showing a race to tighten.
However, Republicans had hoped that October’s first and only debate between Oz and Fetterman would completely overturn Oz, as some of the Democrat’s struggles during the debate highlighted his ongoing stroke recovery. But just 3% of voters in a recent Monmouth University poll said the debate had caused them to reconsider their choice in the race.
For top Republicans, the mere fact that the race is so close after the slog of a summer Oz has endured is a triumph.
“Oz has done a very good job of addressing these concerns by being in everything and being everywhere,” said Matthew Brouillette, founder and president of Commonwealth Partners, a leading Republican super-PAC in Pennsylvania. “Once people hear and get to know him, it’s easy to see them go from skeptical to supportive. I have had this experience myself.”
A senior Republican staffer who works on Senate races was more direct about how concerned the party was over the summer with Oz’s apparent inability to move from primary to general.
“In light of the evidence, it was clear that the way the race was unfolding was in danger of going completely off the map,” said this person. “It would have been catastrophic.”
The importance of the race was shown in full Saturday when the past three presidents — one current, two former — traveled to the state to urge the same voters who helped them win the presidency to turn themselves in and to help their party.
“This could be the vote that will make the difference between a country and no country,” former President Donald Trump said in his push for Oz. “It could be 51, it could be 50,” he said of the balance of power in the Senate. If it’s “49 for the Republicans, this country – I don’t know if it’s going to live another two years.”
Biden and ex-President Barack Obama also increased the pressure on the Commonwealth.
“It’s not your father’s Republican Party. That’s a different breed of cat,” Biden said, urging voters to support Fetterman.
The former Democratic president issued an even more somber warning, warning Democrats not to make the same midterm errors that transformed his presidency.
“I can tell you from experience that midterms are very important,” said Obama, who lost his majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate majority in 2014. I don’t like to look back, but sometimes I can’t help but imagine what it was like would be if enough people had voted in those elections.”
Few voters paying attention to the race remain undecided, a reality of a polarized Commonwealth that has spent hundreds of millions on political campaigns this cycle.
“I decided a long time ago that I would vote for John Fetterman,” said Michelle Schofield, a 48-year-old Delaware County mother. “This election is so much bigger than just John Fetterman. We need him in the Senate.”
For Oz, this dynamic is amplified because he is almost universally known as a famous TV doctor who has spent years on national television.
“I love this man. I think he’ll do a good job,” said Sarah Barrett, an independent voter from Moscow, Pennsylvania. “When I saw him running I just thought yeah because I feel like he cares about people. I felt that when I saw the show. I can feel that now.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.
The CNN Wire
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https://6abc.com/pennsylvania-midterm-elections-senate-mehmet-oz-john-fetterman/12429573/ Midterm Elections 2022: Pennsylvania takes on outsized importance in fight for Senate control