In a major win for Democrats, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has defeated Dr. Mehmet Oz in the race to fill Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. The victory makes the possibility of Republicans flipping the chamber considerably more difficult.
Fetterman led in polling most of the year but had seen the race narrow to a dead heat as Republicans battered him on crime and questioned his capacity to serve following a stroke in May. Fetterman returned to the trail in August, but was suffering from auditory processing issues. During his only debate with Oz, he occasionally missed words and sometimes struggled to express himself.
"I'm not really sure what to say right now, my goodness," Fetterman said at a victory rally early Wednesday morning. "I am so humbled, thank you so much, really. Thank you. It's like 1:30 in the morning and you're still here hanging in? We launched this campaign over two years ago, and we had our slogan, it's on every one of those signs right now: Every county, every vote."
The former mayor of Braddock, a Pittsburgh suburb, saw his stature grow among Democrats in the wake of the 2020 election, where he pushed back on baseless claims of voter fraud in the state on social media and cable news. Fetterman's appeal was bolstered by an aesthetic unique in modern American politics: Nearing 7 feet in height, eschewing suits for hoodies and athletic shorts, he sports a bald head, tattoos and a goatee.
In the spring, Fetterman won his primary easily, even though he suffered the stroke four days before the vote, which required him to be outfitted with a pacemaker and defibrillator on the day of the election.
Fetterman’s strategy, which dates back to a failed 2016 Senate bid and his successful 2018 lieutenant governor campaign, was to visit every Pennsylvania county, even the rural ones that Republicans had been winning in blowouts. His theory was that those visits would not just potentially flip some GOP votes because he had showed up, but motivate the local Democrats to become more involved in the campaign.
Fetterman also toured each of the state’s 67 counties in 2019 to discuss the legalization of marijuana, which had been one of the key planks in his campaign platform.
From the earliest days of his campaign in 2021, Fetterman has vowed to help break the legislative filibuster in the Senate. He told voters he supported codifying Roe v. Wade, LGBTQ rights, gun safety laws and labor unions, even when campaigning in the state’s reddest counties. He also reversed himself on fracking, an energy-extraction method he had previously opposed, while defending his work on criminal justice reform and the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
Oz, the celebrity doctor and cardiothoracic surgeon, moved from New Jersey to run for the seat in the state, where he attended medical and business school at the University of Pennsylvania. The Fetterman campaign painted its opponent as an out-of-touch carpetbagger who was spending millions of his personal fortune to buy a Senate seat.
Oz survived a grueling primary battle, which he narrowly won thanks to the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. While he attempted to pitch himself as a moderate in the general election, he faced criticism for his positions on such issues as reproductive rights and gun regulations.