NEWTOWN, Pennsylvania – John Fetterman, Lieutenant Governor of the State, won PennsylvaniaHenry’s high-tension race for an open seat in the Senate, beating famed TV doctor Mehmet Oz, ending one of the nastiest and most expensive campaigns of the year as both sides l have been treated as a potential tipping point for chamber control.
Fetterman will succeed Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who chose not to seek re-election. Just after 1 a.m. ET, Fetterman was leading by more than a percentage point with about 90% of the expected votes reported.
“It’s official. I’ll be the next U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania,” Fetterman tweeted. “We bet on the people of Pennsylvania – and you didn’t let us down. And I won’t let you down. Thanks.”
Speaking for about seven minutes on his election night in Pittsburgh, Fetterman said, “This race is for the future of every community in Pennsylvania. For every small town or person who has ever felt left behind.”
At his Bucks County party, Oz spoke briefly just before midnight, expressing confidence that he would emerge victorious.
“When all the ballots are counted, we believe we will win this race,” he said. “We closed the gap all night and still have a lot of ballots to go.”
“I’ve told you many times that I believe in you,” Oz added. “I have traveled throughout the Commonwealth to make this message clear. Tonight you told me that you believe in me. Be blessed for that.”
Fetterman, known for his bald head, tattoos, towering figure and casual wardrobe (hoodies rather than suits), had in recent years become a progressive icon – although he and his advisers preferred the word “populist “. As former mayor of the small Pittsburgh-area borough of Braddock and later as lieutenant governor, he championed marriage equality, legal marijuana, and a second chance for criminals, including those who are serving the state’s mandatory sentence for second-degree murder. Part of his campaign platform, which he pressed on in the final days of the race, was to vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster or the 60-vote threshold for most legislation.
But just days before winning the May primary, Fetterman suffered a stroke, limiting his ability to campaign for months. Meanwhile, Oz’s Republican allies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to brand Fetterman soft on crime.
The barrage helped Oz climb back in a run that Fetterman had led all summer — by double digits, according to at least two polls. Fetterman, whose speech and auditory processing were affected by his stroke, accepted only one debate, on Oct. 25. His struggles were apparent, stoking alarm the next day among Democrats who feared the performance would scare voters away.
But Fetterman managed to overcome both obstacles.
Oz entered the race with a much higher national profile from his days hosting a syndicated daytime talk show that Oprah Winfrey (who at the end of the race endorsed Fetterman) helped launch. But the celebrity persona he cultivated, the medical advice he provided, and the products he featured on the program would all haunt him as a first-time job candidate. Critics blasted him for promoting questionable therapies. An early column about the dangers of fracking sometimes stumbled him into a state where natural gas drilling is seen as an economic lifeline. And Republicans weren’t always sure they could trust the man who danced with then-First Lady Michelle Obama on her show.
After veering right in a primary, he narrowly won – and only after a state-mandated recount – Oz made efforts to return to the center. He said he wouldn’t have opposed Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results and danced around attempts to corner him on abortion. During the debate, Oz declined to answer “yes” or “no” when asked if he supports a 15-week federal abortion ban, instead speaking more broadly about his desire to allow that such decisions are made by the woman, her doctor and “local politicians”. Democrats took the response as a sign that Oz thinks the government should be involved in personal health choices.
Oz was also plagued with skepticism about his ties to Pennsylvania – after attending the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s, Oz only returned to the state in accordance with his Senate bid. No moment better captured his struggles with authenticity than a primary school video which resurfaced over the summer and featured Oz in a Redner Market, shopping in hopes of demonstrating the impact of the price hike.
“My wife wants veggies for the veggie,” Oz said, choosing broccoli, asparagus, carrots, guacamole and salsa for the veggie and dip platter. “Guys, it’s $20 for the crudité, and that doesn’t include tequila. I mean, it’s outrageous. And we have Joe Biden to thank for that.
Not only did the rawness reference fall flat with listeners who weren’t familiar with the term, but Oz’s pronunciation of the grocery chain’s name as “Wegners” is also quickly trending on Twitter.
Oz attributed the flub to exhaustion.
An NBC News exit poll found that Pennsylvanians were more concerned about Oz’s limited history in the state than Fetterman’s health.
When asked if Oz had lived in the state long enough to represent him properly, 56% of voters said in the exit poll that he had not, while 42% said that he had done it. For Fetterman, 50% said he was healthy enough to represent the state, while 47% said he was not.
Allan Smith reported from Newtown, Penn. and Henry J. Gomez reported from Columbus, Ohio.