When Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz recently met with the Pennsylvania GOP House delegation in Washington, he spoke bluntly about an immediate challenge: his scars from elementary school.
Oz won his first-ever run for office, but the primary left its mark. The famous surgeon, widely known as “Dr. Oz” absorbed more than $20 million in assault ads that tarnished his standing in the minds of many voters, including the Republican base he must gather in November to defeat Lt. gov. beating John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee.
In his razor-thin victory, nearly 70% of GOP voters voted for someone else, and early public polls have revealed deeply negative views of the GOP nominee, consistent with what members of both parties say they held before May 17 seen primarily when even many Republicans viewed Oz in a bad light.
“We’re looking at these numbers, and it’s quite disturbing,” said Kathy Barnette, a Republican who ran against Oz for the GOP nomination and often accused him of being a false conservative who only repeated required talking points. “That’s on his shoulders, and I want the seat to stay in the Republican corner.”
Incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is not seeking re-election, making this one of the most critical Senate elections in the country and the best chance for Democrats to win a seat as they try to retain control of the chamber.
According to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll earlier in June, just 28% of likely voters in Pennsylvania said they viewed Oz positively, while 50% rated him negatively. An AARP poll revealed even more negative impressions of Oz.
It’s a sharp contrast to Fetterman, who romped to victory with broad support from the Democratic base and met relatively little opposition from his rivals. Its favorability ratings are positive in early polls.
Even Democrats say the situation won’t last: Most Republican voters will almost certainly flock to Oz once they consider the idea of ”Senator Fetterman,” or President Joe Biden, rising prices, and others focus topics. And Fetterman’s image will certainly take its own beating as the GOP rolls out its attacks and voters pay more attention to him.
But Democrats argue that Oz’s early negative impressions may foreshadow two enduring weaknesses. At a time when most candidates are softening their tones and leaning toward the political center, Oz needs to cement his support among conservative grassroots voters, many of whom have been skeptical of his credentials. And, Democrats and some Republicans say, Oz’s negative views raise fundamental questions about whether voters can trust him.
“He was trying to convey the values of America First, but I think authenticity is important,” Barnette said in an interview. She urged Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, to spend more time with ordinary voters and to speak out on issues like rising prices that go beyond political affiliations.
Barnette, who won 25% of the primary votes and finished third, has so far refused to endorse Oz despite his other former rivals lining up behind him.
Several Republicans said they watched Barnette and noted that she had a loyal following, including supporters of Trump and state senator Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor.
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The Camp of Oz argues that his Bruises after being attacked by so much negative publicity expected. Fetterman, they note, has yet to face a similar barrage but will not get a pass in the general election.
Oz spent a week in early June making more than 20 campaign stops across the state while Fetterman remains off track and still recovering from a stroke in May. The campaign of Oz says Democrats defend themselves on issues like crime, inflation and the economy.
“For hard-working families across the Commonwealth, the choice is clear,” said Oz spokeswoman Brittany Yanick, calling Fetterman a “radical liberal” who “supports the crisis-creating Joe Biden presidency.”
“DR. Mehmet Oz will protect law-abiding citizens, fight intrusive big government policies and restore economic prosperity to Pennsylvania,” Yanick said.
Republicans say Biden and Fetterman are the only motivation GOP voters need to support Oz.
“Republican voters are going to be much more focused on who the Democrats are,” said Brock McCleary, a GOP election researcher based in York County. “Voters are often more motivated by what they don’t like than by what they like, and Fetterman will bring about party unity among Republicans.”
Oz carries his negative reviews after a primary commercial blitz that questioned his loyalty to Pennsylvania, accused him of changing his positions on issues like guns and abortion, and referred to him as “RINO” or “RINO.” “Republican in name only” who could not be trusted to uphold conservative values.
» READ MORE: John Fetterman says he’s not your typical politician. Is that enough in a brutal climate for Democrats?
Oz denied these characterizations, citing Trump’s endorsement as evidence of his conservatism, but also acknowledging the damage done by the televised attack.
“There are a few counties that aren’t in a Pennsylvania DMA, and my reputation there is fantastic,” Oz said with a lopsided laugh days before the primary, using the abbreviation for media markets. “We’re doing really well in these five little counties, but you know, it’s politics, and people will portray you negatively [way].”
Democrats say Oz’s skepticism points to deeper problems.
Add up his loose ties to Pennsylvania — he lived in New Jersey for more than 30 years after attending medical and business school in Philadelphia — and his attempts to distance himself from previous statements on guns, abortion and other issues and voters Reason to question his character in a race that could only be a matter of a few percentage points.
» READ MORE: Is Mehmet Oz really a conservative? We looked at the records of the PA Senate candidate.
“Mehmet Oz is a con man and con man who is not from Pennsylvania and is not trusted by voters here,” said Jack Doyle, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Much like Republican rivals, Democrats have pointed to Oz’s shifts. In a 2019 radio appearance, he expressed concern about strict abortion restrictions in Alabama. And while he’s long said he’s personally opposed to abortion, Oz said in 2008 that “I’m not socially conservative” and that “we don’t create obstacles during the difficult times women have when trying to terminate a pregnancy.” should”.
But during the primary, he described himself as a “pro-life” and favored the upset Roe v. calf. When asked about exceptions to a GOP debate, he said he would support them to save a mother’s life. In several other interviews, he said he also supports exceptions in rape or incest cases, and his campaign says that’s his full position on the issue.
» READ MORE: Where Pa. 2022 for the governor and senate to stand on abortion
While many candidates emerge from tough primaries with baggage just to shake it off for the general election, they’re more likely to stick with someone like Oz, said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has worked on Pennsylvania races. He is already well known, she said, and the advertising is so extensive that many voters are already familiar with the criticism. Unlike in many primary elections, the attacks were not only aimed at a small circle of voters.
“Suburban voters and middle street voters have all seen it,” Greenberg said, “and it hangs on someone with a big personality, with a well-defined big personality.”