Being down significantly in the polls can do a lot to a candidate. But being down in the polls after being relentlessly mocked is enough to break them. And this seems to be happening to Mehmet Oz.
Despite the fact his Democratic opponent in the Pennsylvania Senate race, John Fetterman, has spent much of the summer recovering from a stroke, the Republican nominee is trailing in nearly every poll. Fetterman’s incredibly savvy online team (sidenote: When will his candidate start selling “Big Ol Boy” for Senate shirts?) has mercilessly mocked Dr Oz for living in neighboring New Jersey.
Not only that, but when Oz tried attacking President Joe Biden and Fetterman on inflation – which should be a winning issue – he simply attracted ridicule with a now-infamous video of him shopping for crudité ingredients for his wife. Fetterman even had volunteers dressed up as broccoli at a recent event.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who not long ago complained that “candidate quality matters” might keep his party from flipping the Senate, is now having to bail him out. The Senate Minority Leader hosted Dr Oz for a fundraiser along with Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker – who, despite his messy record, is still polling within the margin of error against Senator Raphael Warnock – and Representative Ted Budd, the Republican Senate nominee for North Carolina’s open seat. McConnell said he had “great confidence” in Dr Oz, but the fact he held this fundraiser cuts across that.
Meanwhile, Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, tweeted that “Oz is going to be a senator” after Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News shared an Emerson poll showing Dr Oz… trailing Fetterman by four points.
All this would be enough to break a man. Hence, it seems like Dr Oz’s campaign has decided to go full negative against Fetterman.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with going negative in a campaign; in fact, as my former colleague Nathan Gonzales at Inside Elections says frequently, any candidate worth their salt has some negativity in their arsenal. But it seems like Team Oz has decided to launch a full-on assault focusing on Fetterman’s recent stroke.
Oz campaign communications adviser Rachel Tripp told Business Insider last week: “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.” Dr Oz tried to distance himself from the remark, saying on a radio show, “My position is that I can only speak to what I’m saying.” But it’s pretty hard to argue that, considering these are people his campaign is paying to speak on his behalf. Similarly, if his staff feels they can make inflammatory statements without his consent, that shows he doesn’t have command of his message.
But the coup de grâce came on Tuesday evening, when the campaign released a statement calling on Fetterman to debate Dr Oz. It was a statement riddled with remarks like “Doctor Oz promises not to intentionally hurt John’s feelings at any point” and “We will pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby”.
It’s typical for candidates to call for debates, particularly when they’re down in the polls, since they can find ways to poke holes in their opponent. But after Dr Oz’s remarks, Fetterman’s campaign refused to participate in the debate scheduled for the first week of September.
It remains to be seen whether this latest move will help or hurt the Oz campaign. The gambit is presumably to paint Fetterman as afraid of answering questions, but it could also backfire tremendously for Dr Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, to be seen mocking a man recovering from a stroke.
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