How badly is this guy doing? So badly that he’s underperforming the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, who’s spent the past few days trying to explain why he’s in bed with anti-semites.
The so-called “fundamentals” of the midterms keep steering me back to the belief that it’s impossible for any Republican candidate to lose badly in a swing state this fall. They may not win every race, but between inflation and lingering elevated gas prices, they should be competitive in every race. A Republican getting blown out in a state as evenly divided as Pennsylvania is inconceivable. I think.
But at some point, Oz’s continued poor polling will make me question that.
There have been only a few public polls of Pennsylvania’s Senate race thus far and the GOP nominee hasn’t been very competitive in any of them. His best showing came in mid-June when Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio found him trailing Fetterman by “only” six points, with the Democrat already at the 50 percent mark. Another poll taken around the same time found Oz down by nine. Still another survey published a few days ago by Blueprint Polling saw the same margin.
Today Fox News has Fetterman ahead by 11 points, with Oz taking an abysmal 36 percent of the vote. There’s reason to believe, in other words, that he’s falling further behind as time wears on, not catching up. For all the hype about fringy populist nominees weighing the GOP down in swing states, the one who’s performing the worst is the decidedly un-populist celebrity RINO in Pennsylvania.
Which is the core of his problem. If Oz were a populist fire-breather like, say, Blake Masters in Arizona, he’d have 40 percent in the bank thanks to solid support from MAGA voters and could build out his coalition from there. As proof, look no further than the fact that Doug Mastriano is sitting at 40 percent against Democrat Josh Shapiro in this same Fox poll — also a terrible number, and also evidence that Republicans made a grave mistake by nominating him, but still several points better than Oz. Oz may be too squishy for righties and too much of a celebrity freak for everyone else, making his candidacy a sort of lab experiment to test how badly a Republican can possibly do in a divided America when he has high name recognition and the endorsement of Donald Trump.
Fox has it 47/36 for Fetterman:
A big problem for Oz is consolidating GOP support. By a 16-point margin, fewer Republicans stay loyal to him (73%) than Democrats to Fetterman (89%). Same story on favorable ratings, as many more Democrats view Fetterman positively (88%) than Republicans view Oz (67%).
Just 35% of those backing Oz say they support him enthusiastically, while 45% have reservations. For Fetterman, 68% back him enthusiastically and only 18% hesitate.
Both candidates have vulnerabilities — Oz is ridiculed as a carpetbagger from New Jersey, while Fetterman suffered a stroke earlier in the campaign. But twice as many are concerned Oz isn’t familiar enough with the state to be an effective senator (52%) as are worried Fetterman isn’t healthy enough to serve (23%). That difference holds true among the party faithful, as about three times as many Republicans (22%) are worried about Oz being up to the job as Democrats are about Fetterman (8%).
If you’re looking to salvage some optimism from that, you can tell yourself that Republican voters are still smarting from a bitter primary and will reconcile themselves to Oz as we get closer to Election Day. They’ll never love him the way Democrats love Fetterman, but he doesn’t need their love to win, only their votes. Plus, inasmuch as his support among populists is weak, having Trump campaign for him this fall and having Mastriano on the ballot in the gubernatorial race should bring out a few extra MAGA voters for him. He probably won’t lose this race by 11 points. Probably.
But if you’re looking for pessimism, reasons abound. The fact that a Democrat who’s been sidelined for two months with a stroke is seen as better able to represent the state in Senate than Oz is not a cause for comfort. The “carpetbagger” attacks on the Republican seem to have been devastating if Fox’s numbers are right. And amazingly, Oz has given Fetterman more ammunition for them lately:
[A]lthough Oz faced a brutal, exhaustive, and expensive primary against David McCormick, seasoned political professionals tell me that Oz should have been filling that vacuum with rallies, events, advertising, handshaking, door knocking and mainly, you know, campaigning. Instead, around the time of the recount, Oz spent part of his time in Pennsylvania and the other part of the time in Palm Beach until at least June 9, waiting it out and doing some fundraising. His first post-primary event was June 10. Then, at the end of June, Oz flew off to Europe, specifically to Ireland, to see family until early July.…
Even Trump is complaining about Oz to Sean Hannity, who coaxed him to endorse the TV doctor, saying that he’s running a terrible campaign, even though Oz has some of the best political professionals TV money can buy, like Chris Hansen. “No one can believe that he took a damn vacation at the end of June, after only coming back to the state on June 10,” said a Republican strategist. “He screwed up with that video that was from his New Jersey house instead of Pennsylvania house. It’s really bad.”
Whether because of his out-of-state roots or his reputation as a TV quack, Oz’s favorable numbers have been — and remain — gruesome in Pennsylvania. Fox has him at 35/55 on favorability, worse than Mastriano’s 38/48. (Mastriano trails Shapiro by 10 points, by the way.) And incredibly, Fetterman leads Oz among self-described moderates by 33 points even though Oz is unquestionably more moderate on policy than his opponent is. Where moderate voters got the idea that a Bernie Sanders apprentice is more in sync with them than a RINO, I don’t know. Maybe the Trump endorsement convinced some swing voters that Oz is MAGA?
More likely, moderates are choosing between the two based on simple personal appeal. It’s not necessarily that they think Fetterman is more centrist than Oz, it’s that they’re willing to support a leftist whom they like over a centrist whom they don’t. And if that’s true, it’ll be hard for Oz to close the gap entirely with Fetterman even if Republicans start to swing behind him in October.
There’s one more data point worth noting. After a string of good polling, Democrats have cut the GOP’s lead on the generic ballot to the smallest margin since January:
Maybe that’s a blip, with Dems doomed to sink again as news of our new recession penetrates the public imagination. But falling gas prices plus a Roe backlash plus good vibes on the left from Joe Manchin’s BBB deal might be softening some of the favorable “fundamentals” for Republicans. The red wave Oz is hoping to surf to victory might not be as high as he’s hoping.