Oz-Fetterman U.S. Senate race is now a 'toss-up,' analyst says

Julian Routh
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

Heading into the final month before the November election, the race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz is tightening — so much so that a leading handicapper has shifted the race to a "toss-up."

Cook Political Report, which rates the likelihood that federal seats are won by either political party, had anticipated this dynamic; six weeks ago, experts said Fetterman held a slight advantage — the race was "lean Democrat" — with the caveat being that the GOP's spending against the Democrat hadn't yet ramped up.

Millions of dollars in attack ads later, Oz, the cardiothoracic surgeon and TV celebrity, is closing the gap to, in some cases, within the margin of error. A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll, released Tuesday, had Fetterman in the lead by six, 46% to 40%. In the same poll in June, the Democrat was up nine, 46% to 37%.

"In conversations with several GOP strategists and lawmakers — who a month-and-a-half ago had begun to put the Keystone State in the loss column — this has emerged as a margin-of-error race that they once again see winnable," Cook Political Report's Jessica Taylor wrote in a post. " Republicans and Democrats alike admit the race has tightened and that Pennsylvania could be the tipping point state for the Senate majority."

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Taylor noted that polling averages have Fetterman up by about 4 to 6 points, with the margin closing recently.

USA Today, recapping its poll, hypothesized that the negative barrage of advertising against Fetterman may have contributed to driving his unfavorable rating up by 17 points to 44% — close to his 45% favorable rating. Meanwhile, Oz has a 34% favorable rating and 51% unfavorable rating in the new poll, continuing with well-established trends.

The Oz campaign boasted of the tightening polls, saying, in a press release, that the momentum is with the Republican's campaign in the closing weeks of the race. This is because voters are learning more about Fetterman's "extreme views," campaign manager Casey Contres said.

Asked Tuesday morning by hosts on KDKA NewsRadio about his shrinking lead, Fetterman said he's still leading Oz despite Republicans throwing more than $20 million at the race — and with Fox News "bearing down on us [and] coming after us more than all the other Senate candidates combined."

Reuters reported on Tuesday that indeed, more than $20 million has poured into Pennsylvania by GOP allies of Oz — led, in part, by the Mitch McConnell-linked Senate Leadership Fund — to attack Fetterman. Oz and the political leadership of the GOP have hit Fetterman repeatedly on his positions on crime, his record on the Board of Pardons and his tenure as Braddock mayor, in particular.

In reference to Fox News, the Democrat was referring to a report by Media Matters that said between Sept. 6 and Sept. 27, the conservative news channel's leading programs had mentioned Fetterman's name at least 120 times — more than they mentioned key Democratic candidates in six other states combined. Oz has been a frequent guest on Fox.

The new poll by USA Today and Suffolk, which surveyed 500 likely Pennsylvania general election voters between Sept. 27 and Sept. 30, showed a bigger Democratic margin in the race for governor. Democrat Josh Shapiro was in the lead 48% to 37% over Republican Doug Mastriano.

The election is Nov. 8.