This week, his campaign released two statements ridiculing Fetterman’s diet and accusing him of being too sick to resist debate. Oz and his campaign also worked behind the scenes to convince high-profile conservative figures — including those who were once critics — to publicly rally around him. Republicans are hoping delayed support from influential conservative commentators will help him persuade unenthusiastic GOP voters to return home.
“He turned the corner,” said John Fredericks, a conservative radio host and Trump ally who encouraged the former president to endorse Oz in the primary. “One of the main reasons he did this is that he was able to now merge the whole MAGA movement, which is coming behind him because they don’t want Fetterman.”
Oz’s efforts led to a much-needed show of support for him among Republican voter voices, including on social media, where he was hammered by Fetterman as an out-of-touch New Jersey porter. But the fact that he is still working to cement his standing with the GOP base as of late summer underscores his challenges in the election and could hurt his efforts to win over independents.
Oz limped out of a bitter and costly primary — a primary that was recounted after millions of dollars in attack ads targeted it — with 31% of the vote and one issue. major in his hands: much of the Republican base disliked him. This helped Fetterman take the lead in the polls.
Fredericks said he encouraged Oz to reach out to high-profile conservative figures. A person familiar with Oz Conversations also confirmed that he recently called them. A second person, who is in Trump’s orbit, confirmed that the former president’s aides have also enlisted the help of top Republican agents in an attempt to help Oz in a race they still believe can be won.
“The Trump world is going to try to save Oz’s ass,” whether or not he was disappointed with his post-primary performance, the person said. The people were granted anonymity to speak candidly about the internal campaign deliberations.
Several nights this week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham devoted segments to Fetterman’s outburst in an effort to bolster support for Oz among Pennsylvania’s Republican base – after openly criticizing Oz throughout spring primary. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro posted a seven-minute video attacking Fetterman on Sunday, followed by a segment on his podcast this week doing the same. And despite speaking ill of Oz just last week, far-right personality Jack Posobiec quickly escalated his attacks on Fetterman.
Similar messages in recent days have come from other notable conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Newt Gingrich and others.
At the same time, the Oz campaign has dramatically escalated its attacks on Fetterman, including over his health and his uneven appearances on the campaign trail.
Fetterman held his first rally since his stroke in Erie earlier this month and spoke in Pittsburgh this week at the United Steelworkers’ international headquarters, his second official general election public event. He did not answer questions from the media at each stop.
Oz challenged Fetterman to five debates. Team Fetterman said he was willing to debate, but not on Oz’s terms, and didn’t respond to anything specific.
On Monday, the Oz campaign used Fetterman’s reluctance to engage in debates to draw attention to his health. “If John is too sick to debate and is worried that he won’t be able to stay in front of the cameras for more than 10 minutes, then he should just say so,” Oz spokeswoman Brittany Yanick said Monday.
On Tuesday the campaign was taken to another level, with spokeswoman Rachel Tripp saying: “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke. .”
Many Republicans were animated by the attacks on Fetterman’s health and the dodging of debates. Conservative media widely circulated footage of Fetterman’s speech to union workers on Tuesday, in which he occasionally paused awkwardly and missed words, including during a special segment on Fox News on Wednesday morning. An edited video showing various clips from the event has been viewed over a million times on Twitter.
But some GOP consultants question whether this is a good strategy for Oz. Republican strategist Doug Heye said it’s fair for Oz staffers to highlight Fetterman’s disappearance from the campaign trail, but their attempts to politicize his health this week need work.
“I think there are ways to do that while delivering quality campaign messaging,” Heye said. “If the campaign makes exaggerated attacks as we have seen [Tuesday]this has the effect of making Fetterman more sympathetic to voters, many of whom have health issues.
Joe Calvello, a spokesman for Fetterman, said Oz’s vegetable remark was “grossly insensitive and frankly unbalanced”, and accused “Dr. Oz literally doesn’t know how to talk about the real issues that matter to the Pennsylvanians.
Calvello said Fetterman had been candid about his health issues, acknowledging that he was on speech therapy and had “hearing and auditory processing issues.”
Oz campaign manager Casey Contres and campaign adviser Barney Keller said they called the moderators of the debates Oz agreed to on Monday and all said they had heard nothing from the Fetterman campaign. . The Oz team also said there were no behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Fetterman campaign over the debates.
The Fetterman campaign did not respond to questions about whether it responded to debate moderators.
“His health is not a problem. We hope he recovers quickly, we hope he gets better,” Keller said. “The problem is that he keeps lying about his health. I think the reason is clear: he won’t debate because he had a severe stroke.
Democratic strategists said Oz’s attacks on Fetterman’s health came from a place of weakness, specifically a need to appeal to the GOP base. They said his team’s latest reviews of vegetable consumption also show that Oz doesn’t understand Pennsylvania, the land of cheesesteaks and pierogies.
A Democratic pollster who runs focus groups for campaigns in Pennsylvania said swing voters don’t bring up Fetterman’s health issues themselves when discussing the Senate race, but when polled at this topic, they tend to find it relevant. The investigator was granted anonymity to describe the proprietary research.
A letter from Fetterman’s doctor published in June, which not-so-subtly berated him for not following doctor’s orders before his stroke, particularly resonated.
“The 50-year-old women of Delco, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s my husband,'” the pollster said, referring to a Philadelphia suburb. “‘Oh my God, are all men like this?'”
At the same time, Oz’s attacks on Fetterman’s health turned voters off, with the person saying, “We’ve heard it over and over in our groups. Intrinsically, people don’t like the idea of attacking someone for their health.
While Oz struggled for months after the primary to raise funds — and at one point reportedly vacationed in Ireland, drawing criticism from GOP insiders that he wasn’t taking the race seriously enough — the Republican agents are now trying to spread the message that all is not lost in Pennsylvania.
After weeks of Fetterman posting double-digit leads in public and internal polls, including as much as 18 percentage points, Republicans saw a silver lining this week in two new polls that found Oz down by only 4 dots.
“We are light years away from Election Day, and the Oz campaign is heating up,” said Ward Baker, a Republican strategist and former executive director of the Republican National Senate Committee. “Remember, the Republican primary was a bruise not too long ago, and the wounds are healing. No one has fully sued Fetterman yet, but the ad gap has closed. is liberal – that he is even more radical than Bernie Sanders.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced earlier this month that it was increasing its fall advertising buy in Pennsylvania to $34 million, including the launch of his first spot three weeks before the scheduled date. Late last week, Trump announced he would hold a rally for Oz and Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano over Labor Day weekend — his first rally for the midterm general election. mandate.
“Pennsylvania voters deserve to hear [Fetterman] against Oz in the debates” and after Fetterman’s recent public appearances “now they’re going to demand it,” said David Urban, a GOP strategist who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and backed Trump’s main opponent. ‘Oz in this year’s Republican primary. “I think Oz has a way if he gets to debate and talk about the issues and the differences” between him and Fetterman.
Dave Ball, Washington County GOP Chairman in western Pennsylvania, added, “I’m sure Democrats would like to believe Republicans canceled this race, but that’s anything but true. It’s an important race and we have a good candidate and the Democrats don’t have a good candidate, and it’s winnable. »