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Fetterman v Oz

John Fetterman and Dr Oz: Inside the nastiest and potentially most important Senate race in the country

Mr Fetterman has accused his opponent of killing puppies while Dr Oz and Republicans have gone all in on Fetterman’s health, Eric Garcia reports.

Wednesday 26 October 2022 02:55 BST

A race that could determine control of the Senate, and the direction of the country for at least the next four years, was always going to be fiercely fought. But even in the cut-and-thrust of Trump-era politics, few could have predicted just how bitter the campaign for Pennsylvania’s seat would become.

With one month to go until election day, the race between Democrat John Fetterman and his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz has the dubious honour of becoming the nastiest in the country, and there is little sign that either side is slowing down.

In the last week alone, one candidate has been accused of killing puppies, and the other of lying about his place on a heart transplant list. How did we get here?

The campaign began innocently enough, with a run-of-the-mill accusation from the Fetterman camp that Dr Oz was a carpetbagger. Mr Fetterman’s early attacks on his opponent focused on his longtime residence in New Jersey, and accusations that he moved to Pennsylvania only to run for office. The campaign notably ordered a Cameo video of Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from the television show The Jersey Shore, and even convinced Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, a pride of the Garden State, to take part in a mocking video.

Dr Oz’s campaign largely played defence for the first few weeks, despite the fact Mr Fetterman suffered a stroke shortly before the primary and was forced to take a break.

Meanwhile, Fetterman’s campaign spent much of the summer attacking Dr Oz as out of touch. His campaign hit Dr Oz for a video of him shopping for crudité and flubbing the name of Wegmans as “Wengers.”

The Oz campaign in turn tried to hit back at Mr Fetterman, specifically saying he was using his stroke to avoid a debate. Most notably, his communications adviser told Business Insider, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.”

His campaign doubled down on the attacks on Fetterman’s health as the Democrat requested extra time to recover before agreeing to a debate. A statement offered tongue-in-cheek concessions such as: “We will pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby.”

Those remarks led to Mr Fetterman pulling out of the debate. Now, the sole debate will happen in Harrisburg on 25 October.

Mr Fetterman’s recent interview with NBC News also reignited focus on the Democrat’s health. During the TV interview, Mr Fetterman utilised closed captioning in order to better communicate with journalist Dasha Burns. However, an off-the-cuff comment from Ms Burns ultimately overshadowed the debate itself. Ms Burns said that it appeared Mr Fetterman had trouble following their small-talk conversation ahead of taping, a claim that sparked a firestorm of criticism from other journalists who said the candidate communicated just fine in their interviews.

John Fetterman trolls Dr Oz by comparing him to Simpson's character

The attacks on Mr Fetterman were continued by Mr Trump, who claimed without substantiation that he uses cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl.

But perhaps the darkest turn in the campaign came with a report by Jezebel that studied research conducted by his team at Columbia University. That research, the report claimed, killed more than 300 dogs.

Fetterman’s team has jumped on the story and Fetterman himself responded with typical bluntness in a tweet: “Dr. Oz kills puppies. That’s the tweet.”

The question that now lingers is how the bitterness of the campaign will impact the race. The stakes are incredibly high for both parties. For Democrats, it represents their best chance to flip a Senate seat and Republicans need to hold it if they want control of the Senate in 2022.

The decision by two-term Senator Pat Toomey — one of seven Republicans who voted to convict former president Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 riot — to retire, set off a bizarre chain reaction in the Senate race. Initially, Mr Trump endorsed failed congressional candidate and veteran Sean Parnell.

Mr Parnell bowed out of the race after a sordid child custody dispute with his estranged wife, which alleged that he abused both her two of their three children. Shortly thereafter, Dr Oz jumped into the race and Mr Trump endorsed him before the May primary.

Dr Oz blames viral gaffe on 'exhaustion'

That did little to stave off concerns that he was sufficiently conservative, as he narrowly won the Republican primary in May against former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick and hard-right candidate Kathy Barnette. Even at Mr Trump’s rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, last month, the celebrity doctor received a chilly applause and reception.

Shortly after Dr Oz took the stage with Mr Trump, someone yelled “He’s a RINO.” That was a sentiment held by many people at the rally in Pennsylvania.

“I do not trust that he’s going to do the right thing for America, for America first,” Marleen Laska of Pennsylvania toldThe Independent last month, but added she would still vote for him. “I have to vote for him because, you know, we need to get at least a RINO as opposed to Fetterman.”

A new Suffolk University/USA Today Network poll showed that Dr Oz has improved his standing with conservatives. In June, 76 per cent of Republicans supported him whereas now, 85 per cent of Republicans support him.

Jackie Kullback, the chairwoman of the Cambria County Republican Party, told The Independent earlier this week that she saw plenty of people warm up to Dr Oz on the trail. “I’ve never seen a candidate work harder than Dr Oz,” she said. He’s amazing at retail politics. He talks to liberal media as well as he talks to conservative media.”

Malcolm Kenyatta, a state legislator who ran for the Democratic nomination against Mr Fetterman and has since endorsed and campaigned for him, noted to The Independent that despite the criticism and barrage of ads on crime, Mr Fetterman continues to lead in most polls. The Suffolk poll showed that 46 per cent of voters support Mr Fetterman compared to 40 per cent who support Dr Oz.

“Polls go up and down and what you need to look at are the trends. The trends on every issue shows that Dr Oz is losing,” Mr Kenyatta said, saying voters don’t support the Republican because “he’s an awful untrustworthy sleazebag.”

Mr Kenyatta said that despite the humour in Fetterman’s ads, there is a seriousness to them.

“This is a real issue for people who want to trust that the folks who represent them actually represent their lives,” he said.

JJ Abbott, who worked as a press secretary for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, told The Independent this week that a close race was the most likely outcome, but noted that people’s opinion of Dr Oz hasn’t changed.

“He’s definitely recovered some Republican voters,” he said. “I think people expected Republicans would come home to the Trump-endorsed candidate.”

The Suffolk poll showed that 34 per cent of voters have a favorable opinion of him, even as unfavorable opinion of Mr Fetterman climbed by 17 points since June.

“They’ve really been incredibly nasty and very desperate to make him into something he’s very not and yet we’ve not seen a single poll showing Oz leading,” he said.

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