John Fetterman wins Pa. Senate race, flipping key seat for Democrats
John Fetterman has prevailed over Mehmet Oz in a bitterly fought Pennsylvania contest, flipping the critical U.S. Senate seat for Democrats as majority-control of the chamber hangs in the balance.
Fetterman had about 49.6% of the total votes counted by about 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 Fetterman's favor.
Speaking to a raucous crowd of roughly 100 supporters at the AE Stage entertainment complex in Pittsburgh, Fetterman, who campaigned through a life-threatening stroke and its after-effects, said his candidacy was always about "fighting for everyone who's ever been knocked down and who ever got back up."
"This race is for the future of every community all across Pennsylvania," he said, wearing his signature black hoodie. "For every small town or person that ever felt left behind. For every job that's ever been lost. For every factory that was ever closed. For every person that works hard but never got ahead."
Oz had still sounded hopeful as he addressed an audience of supporters at the Newtown Athletic Club a few hours before the race was called in his opponent's favor.
“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 one percentage point ahead of his GOP rival, but the Democrat built on his razor-thin lead as the night wore on.
By the time Wednesday dawned, Fetterman was leading by nearly 3 percentage points, or more than 136,000 votes, and Oz called his rival at about 9:30 a.m. to concede the race.
The Democrat will replace outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, in the key seat that could determine which party holds a majority in the upper chamber. More than $370 million flooded into the race, according to Open Secrets, making it the nation’s most expensive Senate contest this cycle and one of the most watched.
Fetterman, the sitting 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 rough-and-tumble GOP primary. But Oz closed that gap during the contest’s waning weeks, focusing on inflation and crime as Fetterman strove to highlight abortion rights and his credentials as a native Pennsylvanian.
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With midterms often considered a referendum on the sitting president, Democrats nationwide entered this election season facing some disadvantages given the current economic climate and President Joe Biden’s high unfavorability ratings.
Still, Fetterman was an established public figure in Pennsylvania and was able to capitalize on that during the race, said Dan Mallinson, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg.
“He's born in Pennsylvania. He's a lieutenant governor, and he really used that platform to build his profile in the state,” Mallinson said.
A high stakes election with big money flowing in
Both candidates in the unusual contest ran distinct campaigns, reflective of their professional experience and public image.
Oz circulated through the state hosting events that were, at times, reminiscent of the daytime talk show that helped propel him to fame. Fetterman wore his standard hoodie to rallies and issued statements and tweets in the irreverent style that has become part of his brand.
The GOP candidate, whose personal financial disclosures show him worth at least $100 million, powered 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 Democrat’s nimble social media campaign.
The trolling centered largely on Oz’s wealth and his relatively short time as a Pennsylvania resident; 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 celebrity physician’s home of three decades.
But the mockery struck at a deeper accusation often lobbed at Oz, namely, that the TV-ready physician is a phony and incapable of relating to the lives and struggles of everyday Pennsylvanians. The dubious medical advice sometimes featured on Oz’s talk show fed this perception, and the doctor’s opponents, including some fellow physicians, criticized him as a “fraud.”
Oz cut into Fetterman's lead after stroke
As the race entered the fall, though, the Republican began gaining ground with massive ad buys and as the public’s attention shifted away from abortion rights to issues of crime and the economy. And the candidates’ attacks on one another became more acidic.
Oz pummeled Fetterman with ads portraying the Democrat as a left-wing radical who wants to release dangerous criminals from jail and who supports wholesale drug legalization.
He’s acknowledged lingering auditory processing issues that sometimes cause him to miss words spoken to him and can muddle his speech and has been using closed-captioning technology to accommodate these challenges. Right-wing media personalities launched harsh and often cruel attacks on Fetterman for his verbal stumbles, and video clips of the Democrat — doctored to exaggerate his slip-ups and pauses — went viral on social media.
Fetterman has been a longtime proponent of marijuana legalization and in the past supported decriminalizing all drugs but has more recently said he believes in keeping criminal penalties for heroin, methamphetamines and other hard substances.
Fetterman’s health and communication abilities also came under increasing scrutiny, as the public tracked the candidate’s stroke recovery in real time. After several months spent sidelined by the life-threatening incident, the Democrat returned to the campaign trail in August, and it quickly became clear his speech was still affected by the stroke.
Reporters Chris Ullery and A.J. Rao contributed to this article.