John Fetterman, Mehmet Oz nearly tied in early PA Senate race returns. Here's what to know.
Democrat John Fetterman and GOP candidate Mehmet Oz are neck-and-neck in initial election returns for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race, a contest that has drawn national attention for its potential to decide the partisan power balance in D.C.
The margins following the Tuesday election will change in the coming hours and days as votes are counted and results continue to roll in. But the unofficial returns as of about 11:30 p.m. showed Fetterman with about 49.4% of the tally so far and Oz with 48.2% of the total.
Oz took the stage at his Tuesday night election party with a message of thanks for his supporters, noting that he'd started the evening trailing Fetterman by a wide margin.
“When all the ballots are counted, we believe we will win this race,” Oz told supporters at the Newtown Athletic Club. “We’ve been closing the gap all night and we have a lot more ballots to go.”
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As Election Day arrived in the pivotal contest, the candidates had spent and campaigned their way into a near-deadlock, with some polls showing them in a statistical tie.
Pennsylvania this year emerged as one of the foremost battlegrounds in the two-party struggle for a Senate majority — Republicans determined to retain the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, and Democrats eager to flip it.
Both sides unloaded vast amounts of money into the contest, which has cost more than $370 million and ranks as the most expensive U.S. Senate race in the nation this midterm, according to Open Secrets.
But despite all the anticipation swirling around the race, voters will likely have to wait to learn who has prevailed.
Elections officials have cautioned that it will take time before there are clear winners in some races, as they tally up hundreds of thousands of mail-in and absentee ballots. These ballots tend to skew Democratic, since distrust of by-mail voting has permeated the segments of the GOP base and been propagated by prominent Republicans.
Ongoing conflict about how to count mail-in ballots and the potential for litigation over these issues could prolong the uncertainty even further.
The fierce contest between Fetterman, Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, and Oz, the celebrity doctor, has stood out both for its significance and for the distinct personalities of the candidates.
Fetterman has attacked Oz as a carpetbagger and an elitist who is completely disconnected with the lives of regular Pennsylvanians. The former cardiothoracic surgeon moved from his longtime home in New Jersey to Pennsylvania about a year before announcing his candidacy.
Oz blasted Fetterman as a son of privilege who received financial support from his family into his 40s. The Democrat did get monetary aid from his parents for much of his adulthood as he pursued nonprofit work and served as mayor of a small borough near Pittsburgh, jobs that didn’t furnish a living wage.
Both candidates spent the days before the election appealing to moderate voters and trying to convince this segment of the electorate that their opponent is dangerously extreme.
For Fetterman, that meant arguing Oz was a threat to abortion rights and highlighting the Republican’s comment that decisions about accessing the procedure should be left to “women, doctors, local political leaders.”
Oz has returned fire by calling Fetterman a radical on crime, pointing to the Democrat’s work on prison reform and support for drug decriminalization as evidence that he’d pose a threat to public safety.
The race has also been shaped by the life-threatening stroke that Fetterman suffered in May, just before the primary election. The 53-year-old spent days in the hospital, underwent surgery to install a pacemaker and spent weeks off the campaign trail as he recovered from the medical emergency.
He’s since released two physician’s letters saying he is healthy enough to campaign and serve in elected office, but Oz, 62, and media outlets have pressed him to share more detailed medical records about his condition.
Although Oz pushed for multiple debates, the two candidates met in only one televised forum. Fetterman’s lingering auditory processing issues, which sometimes cause him to miss a word spoken to him or jumble words as he’s talking, made it difficult for him to express his points clearly in the time-limited and high-pressure format.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll found respondents overwhelmingly chose Oz as the debate’s winner.
Staff writer Chris Ullery contributed reporting.