PHILADELPHIA — One is a telegenic television celebrity who campaigned in sharp suits while delivering hard-hitting sound bites during his first run for public office. The other is the burly – often scowling – lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, who found himself in hoodies and shorts and on a political career that began in a small, struggling former steel town.
Yet U.S. Senate candidates from Pennsylvania, Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman, in many ways offer voters similar stories: They each portray themselves as outsiders who challenge traditional, hidden politics — while wearing elite references.
The opening hours of their game, after Republican David McCormick conceded the GOP primary in Oz on Friday night, showed how each candidate hopes to crack the other’s public image.
Democrats attacked Oz as a multi-millionaire New Jersey Senate candidate in another act of self-promotion, while aligning themselves with former President Donald Trump. Republicans slammed Fetterman as one more vote for President Joe Biden and signaled they intended to try to undermine his populist image by pointing to his comfortable upbringing and the financial support his family gave him long in adulthood.
“We will ensure that this US Senate seat does not fall into the hands of the radical left, led by John Fetterman,” Oz said in a statement late Friday.
A fundraising outburst from Fetterman asked, “Did anyone predict that a famous TV quack doctor was going to run for the US Senate in 2022? You know, I wouldn’t believe you if you said you did. But here we are.
The winner of his race will have a national impact. He’s one of the few who will decide which party controls the chamber — and the potential future of health care, abortion and gun laws, taxes and spending, and the Supreme Court, among many other questions. It is certainly one of the most watched and expensive senatorial races in the country.
Oz, an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon widely known as “Dr. Oz,” campaigned for the Republican nomination in the Trump mold, calling himself a “conservative outsider” who would upend the status quo (and got the approval of the former president).
The tattooed, goatee Fetterman took pride in the fact that even many fellow Democrats were cold towards him, riding an ordinary persona who he says aligns himself more with ordinary people than party insiders. Its political base is in Braddock, a town of less than 2,000 people outside of Pittsburgh.
The success of two candidates with unconventional political figures reflects a moment of deep contempt for establishment institutions.
Yet both have power and importance. Oz taught and practiced at some of the nation’s most elite institutions, Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, before rising to fame on daytime television with the help of Oprah Winfrey. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Meanwhile, Fetterman graduated from Harvard and held elected office for 16 years.
KNOWN CHARACTERS WHOSE IMAGES WILL BE TESTED
One of Oz’s greatest strengths in the primary remains in the general – it’s been a household name for 13 years on TV. Allies predict it will appeal to moderate suburban voters, especially women and those who have strayed from the GOP but see Oz as a familiar face on TV. And Trump’s endorsement could carry weight with GOP loyalists.
The counter to that? Oz was attacked from all sides in a brutal primary, and voters have seen and heard these ads for months. While his name ID was nearly universal, polls suggested that many voters who knew him disliked him. Oz won the primary by a knife’s edge, so he’ll have to win over the majority of Republicans who chose someone else – some of whom even booed Oz at a rally with Trump last month. And an endorsement from the polarizing former president could hurt him with the wider electorate.
Fetterman previously tweeted a photo repeatedly used by Oz’s GOP opponents showing the doctor leaning over to kiss his own Walk of Fame star.
And less than 24 hours after Oz became the nominee, Fetterman’s campaign began selling bumper stickers reading “Dr. Oz for NJ.
Oz grew up in Delaware and lived for over 30 years in northern New Jersey while working in Manhattan. During his campaign, he said he grew up “near Kennett Square” and pointed out that he went to medical and business school at the University of Pennsylvania. His wife’s family has deep roots in suburban Philadelphia, and Oz says they moved to his in-laws’ home in Montgomery County in late 2020. He bought a house there earlier this year , according to public records.
“Shout out to my North Jersey voter, Dr. Oz, whose overwhelming 31% gives him a shot at becoming Cliffside Park, the first US Senator from New Jersey since Frank Lautenberg,” tweeted US Rep. Bill Pascrell, DN. .J.
Fetterman ran a dominant primary campaign, winning all 67 counties and 59% of the vote, despite heavy opposition. And during his years as mayor and lieutenant governor, he has built a fervent following of supporters, including many who adore him as a rare “authentic” figure in politics. His tweets about Wawa, marijuana legalization and his dog have endeared him to some fans, and some Democrats say his unusual public image is what they need to defy political headwinds this year.
Fetterman pledged to win back the kind of working-class white voters who fled their party.
But Republicans say her image has never faced the kind of scrutiny and testing she is about to undergo. And the headwinds seem strong, as Biden’s polls remain lackluster and Democrats face a midterm backlash that often pits the ruling party.
Republicans call Fetterman a “radical leftist” and also link him to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whom Fetterman endorsed in the 2016 presidential race. They plan to attack his positions on fracking, crime and expenses.
A 2013 incident in which Fetterman, armed with a shotgun, chased a black jogger may also draw more attention.
Fetterman is also likely to face questions about his health – he had a stroke four days before the primary and was fitted with a pacemaker and defibrillator to treat cardiomyopathy, a weakened heart condition. Now he is seeking a six-year term against a cardiothoracic surgeon.
His recovery will also delay when he can start campaigning. On Friday, Fetterman said doctors recommended more rest and did not provide an update on when he would be back on the track.
Oz, meanwhile, can start ramping up immediately, now that his drawn-out primary is over.
CONTRASTS ON ABORTION, WEAPONS, EXPENSES
The political contrasts and the stakes for the public on the issues are dramatic.
Fetterman said he would not support any limits on abortions. “It’s between a woman and her doctor,” Fetterman said during a debate in Carlisle, when asked if he believed in exceptions. “It’s definitely not between me or a politician.”
Oz said he would support a ban on all abortions except for the life of the mother.
Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade over the next month, the issue will almost certainly be at the forefront of the general election.
After a series of recent mass shootings, gun control could be another. Fetterman supports an assault weapons ban, expanded gun background checks, limits on high-capacity magazines and “red flag” legislation. Oz said he would oppose red flag laws, universal background checks “and any gun control measures that violate the Second Amendment.”
During the GOP primary, Oz disavowed past statements that championed more moderate positions on guns, abortion, fracking and other issues.
Fetterman supports eliminating the filibuster — the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance most laws — so Democrats can move forward on issues like codifying abortion rights legal at the federal level and the adoption of suffrage legislation. Oz said he would keep the filibuster.
Fetterman “will vote to raise the minimum wage – Dr. New Jersey won’t,” tweeted State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat from Philadelphia who ran against Fetterman for the Senate nomination. “JF will vote to codify freedom to choose – Dr. New Jersey will not. JF will vote to ban assault weapons and for background checks – Dr. New Jersey will not. The choice is clear.
And then there is the economy. Polls show Americans growing more pessimistic as inflation rises and gas prices remain high. Rising costs dragged down Biden and his fellow Democrats. Oz called their spending excessive and a driver of inflation, while Fetterman pledged support for Biden’s agenda.
“The radical left has taken over the Democratic Party, and nowhere is that clearer than the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairman of the GOP campaign arm at the Senate. “It will be a campaign of contrasts. Personal freedom versus great government control. High taxes versus low taxes. American energy against the radical Green New Deal.
IMPORTANT AND EXPENSIVE
The race, with national stakes and in a state with a wide range of media markets, including beloved Philadelphia, is already on track to be one of the costliest in the country.
Oz, who is very wealthy and married into one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest families, poured $12 million of his own money into his primary campaign, funding it almost entirely on his own.
Fetterman, on the other hand, was propelled by a grassroots fundraising operation, with more than 200,000 donors, many of whom contribute in regular increments of $10 or $20. Yet even though he dominated fundraising in the Democratic primary, he won’t have that advantage against Oz’s deep pockets.
At the same time, with so much at stake, national parties and other groups should pour money into Pennsylvania. Already, the Democratic super super PAC has bought nearly $26 million in TV time for the fall, while his Republican counterparts have bought $21 million.