Oz takes risk vs. Fetterman with Trump rally

Former President Trump is seeking to put his imprint on the Pennsylvania Senate race with a rally in Latrobe on Saturday with Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, a risky move given Oz’s efforts to distance himself from Trump’s debunked election fraud claims.

Throughout the 2022 election cycle, Democrats have tried to make the battle for the Senate a referendum on Trump, even though he left office nearly two years ago and won’t be on the ballot.

Oz has distanced himself from Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election and has tried to project a moderate image in his race against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a stark contrast with gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (R), an election denier who will also share the state with Trump Saturday.

Some Republican strategists are questioning the wisdom of Oz appearing on stage with Trump and Mastriano, who is trailing by double digits in the gubernatorial race, so soon before Election Day.

One Senate Republican adviser said appearing with Trump and Mastriano is “probably not” a good idea given Trump’s penchant for controversy and his negative approval rating in the state, but lamented: “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t think you have much of a choice in the matter because we have an issue with Republican base voters,” the strategist said, noting that “Trump gave Oz a lot of credibility” by endorsing him in the primary and now Oz has to pay him back.

Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R), whose seat Oz is running for, refused in 2016 to say whether he would even vote for Trump until about an hour before the polls closed that year.

Toomey was also one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Democrats have also tried hard to tie Oz to Mastriano since last week’s debate when Oz, a celebrity doctor, said that he wanted women, doctors and local political leaders to “put the best ideas forward” on setting rules for abortion.

The Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), immediately unveiled an ad declaring that Oz “thinks abortion decisions belong to politicians like Doug Mastriano,” flashing photos of Oz and Mastriano, a state senator, side by side.

Fetterman told Pittsburgh’s NPR station in an interview aired Wednesday that he “would never stand on … the stage with someone like Doug Mastriano” and emphasized his support for passing a federal law to codify Roe v. Wade, which the Supreme Court struck down in June.

A spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) said the weekend rally with Trump and Mastriano encapsulates why Oz is a bad choice to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate.

“Mehmet Oz will be on stage with Doug Mastriano — the type of extreme ‘local political leader’ who has no business making health care decisions for Pennsylvania women,” said Patrick Burgwinkle of the DSCC.

A Washington-based Democratic strategist said “it’s risky” for Oz to get on stage with Trump and Mastriano, given Trump’s penchant for turning off suburban female voters.

“Trump is just a very polarizing figure and sends people to their corners and this is a state that President Biden won, so you’d be hard-pressed to argue that appearing with the candidate that lost your state two years ago … is an effective way to close out” the race, the strategist said. “You can’t have your rally in Pittsburgh and not have the Philadelphia suburbs aware of what’s going on.”

A USA Today-Suffolk University poll of 500 likely Pennsylvania voters conducted from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30 found that Trump has a 37 percent favorable rating and a 55 percent unfavorable rating in the state. Biden’s job approval rating stood at 38 percent and his disapproval rating stood at 51 percent in the poll.

The same poll found Fetterman leading Oz by just 2 points in the Senate race, down from a 6-point spread a few weeks ago.

Biden will attend a rally with Fetterman and former President Obama in Philadelphia Saturday. Obama will campaign for Fetterman earlier in the day in Pittsburgh.

Trump’s unscripted speaking style at campaign rallies poses another risk for Oz, who has tried to distance himself from the former president’s unfounded claims of widespread fraud in Pennsylvania in 2020.

Oz said last month that he would not have objected to the certification of Biden’s victory had he been a senator in January of 2021.

There’s a good chance, however, that Trump on Saturday will reprise his claim that the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania were marred by widespread fraud, an unsubstantiated claim that Toomey, the retiring Republican incumbent, dismissed as “very disturbing” and lacking evidence.

Trump on Tuesday raised fresh doubt about whether this year’s elections in Pennsylvania would be fair.

He posted an article from the site Just the News reporting that the Pennsylvania Department of State had sent out more than 240,000 mail-in ballots without verifying voter identities.

“Here we go again! Rigged election!” he wrote.

That has Republican strategists in Washington worried about a reprise of what happened in the Georgia Senate runoff elections in January of 2021, when Republican voter turnout dropped off after Trump claimed the mail-in balloting process was rife with fraud.

More than 750,000 Georgia voters who cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election did not vote in the Senate runoff races two months later, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won both races.

A Senate Republican aide warned that Trump could depress GOP turnout in Pennsylvania by making new claims of brewing election fraud.

“There’s no doubt that he hurt there,” the aide said of Trump’s impact on the failed reelection bids of then-Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in 2021.

However, Brian Nutt, a Republican strategist based in Harrisburg, Pa., argued that Tuesday’s race will be a referendum on Biden’s record, not Trump’s claim of election fraud.

“I wouldn’t know what the Oz campaign is thinking or looking at in that regard,” he said of Saturday’s rally in Latrobe. “It’s pretty hard for the Democrats or anyone to make it a referendum on Donald Trump when we have inflation at a 40-year high, we have $4 and $5 gasoline.”

“It’s very hard to make this a referendum about Donald Trump when the country is in a crisis financially,” he said.

Nutt said Oz may be motivated to hold a rally with Trump “to bring even more [Republican] voters home” to his campaign.

Oz, who narrowly won the GOP primary over hedge fund CEO David McCormick, had trouble consolidating GOP voters behind his campaign over the summer.

But a new poll shows that more Republican voters have rallied to Oz over the last few weeks.

The Muhlenberg College-Morning Call poll of 460 likely voters conducted from Oct. 24 to Oct. 28 showed that 87 percent of Republican voters say they support Oz, up from the 81 percent of GOP voters who said they did in September.

Tags 2022 midterms 2022 midterms Senate Fetterman John Fetterman Mehmet Oz Pat Toomey Pennsylvania
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