After an uninterrupted stretch of good polling news for Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) in his U.S. Senate race against Republican celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz, major analysts now suggest the race could go either way.
The Cook Political Report and the data aggregator FiveThirtyEight both came out with assessments of recent survey data leading them to conclude Oz can win.
In mid-August, FiveThirtyEight reported that the average of major polls in the race to succeed retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey showed a 12-point gap between Oz and Fetterman. That lead narrowed slightly in later weeks but always hovered around 10 percent until narrowing to under 6 percent in early October.
That gap did grow to 6.6 percent on October 5 in light of a Center Street PAC poll suggesting a 19-point advantage for Fetterman, but that survey is an outlier among recent polls from such institutions as Suffolk University and Emerson College indicating the Democrat’s lead is in the single digits. (Center Street PAC, it should be noted, tends to back Democratic candidates despite calling itself a “nonpartisan” political action committee.)
Now FiveThirtyEight finds that while Fetterman maintains the upper hand, his chances of victory have lessened from 83 in 100 last month to 73 in 100 presently. The organization partly ascribes this movement in Oz’s favor to Republicans “getting off the fence” and backing the famous doctor and broadcaster. FiveThirtyEight cites earlier survey data showing many GOP voters were uneasy about Oz months ago and notes later polls find Republicans are now more supportive.
Another observation the group’s senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich made was that Oz and groups backing him have successfully described Fetterman as soft on crime, citing the lieutenant governor’s far-left record as chair of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. This week, for instance, Fetterman underwent national media scrutiny because he was the sole vote on that panel to release prisoner Alexis Rodriguez, a man who was convicted in 1989 of first-degree murder and whose victim was a 17-year-old. Fetterman has frequently voiced his desire to drastically reduce the prison population.
The Cook Political Report’s examination of polling data after these developments has led the publication to move its prediction regarding the race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss Up.” Cook noted that Pennsylvania voters have a much more negative view of Fetterman now than when the race began, attributing that to about $8.8 million in advertising against Fetterman’s lax crime polices.
“The message that Republicans … have hammered home in recent weeks is that Fetterman is weak on crime, leaning heavily into his work on the parole board and recommendations he made … ,” Cook’s Senate and governors editor Jessica Taylor wrote in her analysis of the race this week. “As the Suffolk poll shows, those attacks are having an effect — since June, Fetterman’s unfavorables have risen 17 points.”
Taylor nonetheless suggested that Oz still faces major hurdles if he is to become Pennsylvania’s junior senator. She cited news reports concerning what she terms “questionable cures and supplements” that the candidate embraced on his television show.
“‘Dr. Oz had a big platform and he used it to promote products that could hurt people,” Fetterman tweeted on Thursday. “Dude even pushed phony cancer treatments on his show … so he could get rich + famous.”
Nonetheless, analysts seem to see the tide beginning to turn against the Democrat, though they are far from predicting Oz will gain sufficient ground by the November 8 election.
“To be sure, Democrats are still favorites to win Pennsylvania’s Senate seat and the Senate overall,” Rakich wrote. “But if Republicans are looking for reasons for optimism, they’re starting to become visible.”
Sean Shute, Pennsylvania press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said he expects Keystone Staters to continue to sour on their lieutenant governor.
“With just over one month to Election Day, Republicans have all the momentum in this race,” he told The Pennsylvania Daily Star. “Pennsylvanians have seen through John Fetterman’s extreme agenda that will destroy the energy sector, increase inflation, and make Pennsylvania families less safe.”
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “John Fetterman” by Tom Wolf. CC BY 2.0. Photo “Mehmet Oz” by Mehmet Oz.