Trolling between Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman in Senate race takes a turn

as dr Mehmet Oz announced last fall that he would run for the US Senate as a Republican here, he had a built-in advantage that most first-time candidates don’t have: fame.

After all, the prominent TV doctor was at home in many voters’ apartments for years.

But since Oz narrowly won the GOP primary in May, his Democratic opponent has sought to turn his fame into his greatest political weakness.

John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s burly, 6-foot-9 Democratic lieutenant governor known for his wardrobe of baggy Carhartt sweatshirts and tattooed arms, hardly fits the stereotype of a social media geek. But his campaign has used the weapons of satire and snark on the Internet and the Internet to turn Oz’s abode and wealth into a racing hotspot, using tactics that could be excised from the “Veep” writer’s room.

He chartered a plane to hoist a welcome banner over the beach in New Jersey, where Oz lived for decades before moving to Pennsylvania ahead of his Senate nomination. He’s posted videos of Garden State celebrities — including MTV’s Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Steven Van Zandt, a “Sopranos” star and guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — telling Oz to go come home And he’s invited supporters to nominate Oz for induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

The trolling has turned the campaign into a daily sparring match on social media, with contestants exchanging jabs in real-time. And it has helped make the race – one of the most competitive and consequential in the nation – an unmissable political storyline of the 2022 midterm elections.

John Fetterman, wearing a hoodie, waves and holds a microphone on a rally stage while his wife stands next to him.

Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman, Democratic nominee for Senate, speaks after being introduced by his wife Gisele Barreto Fetterman during a rally in Erie in August.

(Gen J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Fetterman “is using social media in more provocative, novel, and creative ways than we typically see from your Republican or Democratic nominee,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies who conducts social media research in politics .

Oz is the almost daily subject of Fetterman’s ridicule, but he himself has used video and social media effectively as a contestant despite some notable fumbling, relying on his strong on-camera skills, Stromer-Galley said. And his supporters say Fetterman’s tactics are controversial anyway, as issues — not memes — are the driving factor in the race.

“Zero-impact comedy show,” said John Fredericks, a right-wing radio host in Pennsylvania, who encouraged former President Trump to support Oz and gave him a boost in a hard-fought primary. “[Fetterman] can’t promote the issues so he has to rely on gimmicks and stunts.”

No incident better illustrates how the race plays out online than a now-infamous video of Oz butchering the name of a grocery store before pulling broccoli, carrots and asparagus from a shelf along with pre-packaged guacamole and salsa. He weighed the lot in his arms and blamed President Biden for the cost of “robbery.”

dr Mehmet Oz, wearing a blue suit and red tie, smiles on stage.

The campaign by Dr. Mehmet Oz has mocked John Fetterman for health issues and called for him to take time off campaigns.

(Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Oz said he was at “Wegners” — an apparent hybrid of Wegmans and Redners, popular Pennsylvania chains. (He later told right-wing TV station Newsmax he was “exhausted” after a long day of campaigning while filming the shot.)

When Oz tweeted the Crudité video in April, it looked like a gaffe that largely flew under the radar. But since a Twitter account run by an anonymous 22-year-old known by the name @umichvoter recirculated it in August with the question “who thought that was a good idea”, it took on a life of its own.

Fetterman responded on Twitter, writing in Pennsylvania, “We call this a veggie tray.” According to campaign spokesman Joe Calvello, by the end of the week his campaign had raised more than $1 million in small dollar donations from Oz’s video.

In Pittsburgh, Jon Romanishin, a 57-year-old paralegal who supports Fetterman, saw the video and couldn’t resist.

“I just noticed that they didn’t get the name of the store right,” Romanishin said. So he created a parody account on Twitter for “Wegner’s Grocery”.

It started out as a bare bones profile with just the letter W for a logo. His first tweet received only 32 retweets. “It was really bad,” said Romanishin.

But within a day a graphic designer offered a logo design, and the account — featuring the Twitter bio “The Crudité Capital of Central PA” — began to gain traction, receiving retweets from celebrities including Jimmy Kimmel. His second tweet on August 16 went viral. Today, the account has a following of more than 27,000 — including Fetterman and his wife — and frequently trolls Oz and other GOP contestants.

Plumber TJ Sandell, who serves as president of Erie’s Great Lakes Building and Construction Trades Council, can hardly hide his grin when asked about the trolling that partially defines the Senate race.

“He’s just showing everyone that Dr. Oz is out of touch with the real world,” he said of Fetterman.

Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman stretched out his tattooed arms and smiled for a selfie with supporters after a rally.

Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman poses for a selfie with supporters after speaking at a rally in Erie in August.

(Gen J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Erie, a northwestern Pennsylvania city where lakefront bars line a shoreline that overlooks bobbing jet skis and flag-waving fishing boats, is home to a long union tradition that for years has been synonymous with Democratic elections. Erie County turned blue in every presidential election between 1988 and 2012.

Then came Donald Trump, who made the county red by a narrow margin in 2016 before President Biden retook it for Democrats in 2020. Sandell, a Democrat, says “the temperature” varies among union voters. He expects Fetterman to circle some Trump voters in this year’s Senate campaign.

And while many here are a far cry from the social media assaults that have pinned a national audience, Fetterman’s message about Oz has gotten across.

“I have something against Oz because he doesn’t actually live in our state,” said Michelle Whalen, 59, a retired high school teacher. “From the little bits I’ve gathered from the TV show, I figured he lived in New York or something, not Pennsylvania.”

Terry Scheu, 64, a self-employed Trump voter, said he prefers Fetterman in this race. “I think Oz bought his way into politics.

Fetterman’s message on TV is delivered differently than the one he’s spreading with memes and taunts on social media, though one spot features Oz kissing his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Targeting working-class voters, Fetterman’s ads focus on economic issues and portray him as an anti-establishment figure. In one that aired in the Erie-area in July, he derided decisions by Washington, “those made by people who don’t know us, got hit for us,” adding, “That’s exactly who we’re up against.”

Oz has accused Fetterman of being too progressive for Pennsylvania and being “forgiving of crime.” In ads and his frequent interviews on right-wing television, Oz refers to Fetterman as a “radical.” On social media, he sometimes responds to Fetterman’s taunts by taunting him for stealing large sums of money from his family as an adult.

Also central to Oz’s message: attacks on Fetterman for his absence from campaigning. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May that sidelined him until recently. He returned to personal campaigning here in Erie last month, drawing more than 1,000 people to a rally, but he appears on the trail significantly less frequently than Oz.

Oz has dubbed Fetterman a “hologram” for virtual campaigns. And his campaign has increased its focus on Fetterman’s health in recent days after the Democrat said he would not attend a debate in Pittsburgh.

Oz, whose campaign has not responded to questions about the story, has accused Fetterman of ducking the media – and voters – because of his medical condition. Campaign officials have mocked the Democrat’s health, at one point responding to Crudité’s taunts, saying he could have avoided the stroke if he’d eaten more vegetables.

Fetterman, who said in his first national television interview since the stroke last week that his only lingering problem was auditory processing and language, released a video criticizing Oz for having a low blow. Fetterman was not made available for an interview for this story.

Fetterman supporter Patrick Hollingshead, a UPS driver who sits on the board of directors at his union in Harrisburg, the state capital, says the negative campaign — including some Democrat tactics — has put him off. “Why don’t you run on your track record?” he said.

But it’s only likely to increase from here as both candidates increase TV ad spending. Fetterman has been on the air for months, but Oz supporters are hoping a recent surge in Republican television spending will help him narrow Fetterman’s lead in the polls.

David Urban, a Republican strategist who ran Trump’s 2016 Pennsylvania campaign, said the race is closer than polls suggest, in part because Oz is still recovering from a hard-fought primary. “Oz comes off a little bloody and bruised, and Fetterman has never had a glove put on him,” he said.

The negatives of both candidates seep through to many voters.

Christal Moore, 46, an IT worker from Brookhaven, a suburb of Philadelphia, said she was unimpressed when she came across Oz’s raw video on Facebook. “I think, OK, what is crudité?” She said.

“I agree — food prices are high, but he would have been better off going to the meat department and getting a packet of ground beef or chicken rather than complaining about crudité,” she said. “He’s not even dealing with the reality of what the workday goes through.”

Joe Fisher, a 55-year-old hospital manager in Erie, is skeptical about Oz, in large part because of the residency issue, but plans to vote for him anyway. The two-time Trump voter said he was influenced by the former president’s support for Oz. “It’s pretty significant,” the Republican said. “Trump was change.”

In Allegheny County, Republican Jane Hawkins, 66, a retired carer and Trump fan, says she might just sit out the Senate race.

“I don’t care about his opinion on letting criminals go — too progressive for me,” she said of Fetterman. As for Oz, “It’s confusing to know what he’s really thinking,” she said, adding that he’s “too famous.” Trolling between Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman in Senate race takes a turn

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