John Fetterman defeats Dr. Mehmet Oz for US Senate seat in PA
John Fetterman prevailed over Mehmet Oz in a hard-fought contest in Pennsylvania, flipping the critical US Senate seat for Democrats as majority control of the chamber hangs in the balance.
Fetterman had about 49.6% of the total votes counted around 1 a.m. Wednesday when the race was called by NBC and Fox News, while Oz trailed with about 48% of the unofficial tally. The Associated Press later called the race in favor of Fetterman.
Addressing a raucous crowd of about 100 supporters at the AE Stage entertainment complex in Pittsburgh, Fetterman, who campaigned against a life-threatening stroke and its aftermath, said his candidacy was always about “fighting for all who have ever been knocked down and ever risen again.”
“This race is for the future of all communities in Pennsylvania,” he said, wearing his signature black hoodie. “For every little town or person that felt left behind. For every job that was lost. For every factory that was closed. For every person that worked hard but never progressed.”
Oz had not offered a public concession at 2 a.m. Wednesday and still sounded hopeful as he addressed an audience of supporters at the Newtown Athletic Club hours before the race was called in favor of his opponent.
“When all the ballots are counted, we believe we will win this race,” Oz said before the race was called.
At the time, Fetterman was less than a percentage point ahead of his GOP rival, but the Democrat built on his lead like a razor as the night wore on.
The Democrat will replace incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, in the key seat that could determine which party has a majority in the upper house. More than $370 million has flooded the race, according to Open Secrets, making it the the country’s most expensive senatorial contest this cycle and one of the most watched.
Fetterman, the incumbent lieutenant governor and former mayor of a small Pennsylvania steel town, started the general election with a sizable lead over his Republican rival, who emerged bruised from a tough GOP primary. But Oz bridged that gap during the final weeks of the contestfocusing on inflation and crime as Fetterman worked to highlight abortion rights and his credentials as a native Pennsylvanian.
With midterms often seen as a referendum on the incumbent president, Democrats across the country entered this election season facing some disadvantages given the current economic climate and high unfavorable ratings for President Joe Biden.
Still, Fetterman was an established public figure in Pennsylvania and was able to leverage that during the race, said Penn State Harrisburg political science professor Dan Mallinson.
“He was born in Pennsylvania. He’s a lieutenant governor and he’s really used that platform to get his name out there in the state,” Mallinson said.
A high-stakes election with lots of money flowing
The two contestants in the unusual competition ran separate campaigns, reflecting their professional backgrounds and public image.
Oz traveled around the state hosting events that were sometimes reminiscent of the daytime talk show that propelled him to fame. Fetterman wore his standard hoodie to rallies and posted statements and tweets in the irreverent style that has become part of his trademark.
The GOP candidate, whose personal financial disclosures show he is worth at least $100 million, fueled his campaign with nearly $23 million in personal loans, more than the total amount he received in donations. Fetterman’s fundraising operation, on the other hand, relied on small contributions and grassroots support.
Oz spent most of the summer lagging behind Fetterman and was often on defense against the The Democrat’s nimble social media campaign.
The trolling largely centered on Oz’s wealth and his relatively short time as a resident of Pennsylvania; the Fetterman campaign enlisted New Jersey icons like Steven Van Zandt and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to film videos encouraging Oz to return to their state, the famed doctor’s home for three decades.
But the mockery struck at a deeper accusation often thrown at Oz, which is that the TV-ready doctor is a fake and unable to relate to the lives and struggles of ordinary Pennsylvanians. The questionable medical advice sometimes presented on the Oz talk show fueled this perception, and opponents of the doctor, including some fellow doctors, criticized him as a “fraud”.
Oz took the advantage over Fetterman after a stroke
As the race entered the fall, however, the Republican began to gain traction with massive ad buys and as public attention shifted from abortion rights to issues of crime and of economy. And the candidates’ attacks on each other have become more acidic.
Oz pummeled Fetterman with ads portraying the Democrat as a left-wing radical who wants to free dangerous criminals from prison and who supports wholesale drug legalization.
He recognized persistent auditory processing problems that sometimes cause him to miss words addressed to him and can blur his speech and used closed captioning technology to address these challenges. Right-wing media figures have launched harsh and often cruel attacks on Fetterman for his verbal stumbles and video clips of the Democrat – doctored to exaggerate his slips and breaks – has gone viral on social media.
Fetterman is a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization and has in the past supported decriminalize all drugs, but more recently declared he believes in maintaining criminal penalties for heroin, methamphetamines and other harsh substances.
Fetterman’s health and communication skills also came under increasing scrutiny as the public followed the contestant’s recovery from a stroke in real time. After several months away from the life-threatening incident, the Democrat returned to the electoral campaign in Augustand it quickly became clear that his speech was still affected by the stroke.
Journalists Chris Ullery and AJ Rao contributed to this article.