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All You Need To Know About Pennsylvania’s Senate Race, Through TV Ads

In Pennsylvania’s Senate race, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is facing off against Republican celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. Both of their TV ads reveal a lot about the issues at play, how each candidates is perceived and the overall state of the race.


Nathaniel Rakich: Pennsylvania is Democrats’ best shot at picking up a Senate seat this year. Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has outpolled Republican physician Mehmet Oz for most of the year, but according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast, it’s still a very close race.

Part of Fetterman’s secret might be his working-class image. His ads all seem to have the same gravel-voiced narrator, hard rock music and blue-collar imagery.

Narrator in Fetterman ad: Under Friday night lights in his hometown of York, an offensive lineman by the name of John Fetterman forged his values: work over glory. It’s why he was able to revitalize a forgotten steel town. Why he took on corruption in Harrisburg. And why we need him in the Senate.

Rakich: Unsurprisingly, Republicans’ ads have tried to pierce that image — emphasizing his upper-class background.

Narrator in Senate Leadership Fund ad: John Fetterman poses in front of factories — but he’s never worked in one. He lived off his parents until he was 49. Fetterman’s phony blue-collar act insults struggling families while he’s pushing tax hikes on people who actually work.

Rakich: Republicans have also attacked Fetterman using an issue they’ve found effective in other races, too: crime.

Narrator in American Crossroads ad: He shot a teenager in cold blood, killing him for money to buy heroin. And John Fetterman wanted him to walk free. As chairman of the Board of Pardons, Fetterman says he’s trying to get as many criminals out of prison as he can.

Rakich: Just as Republicans started to hammer Fetterman on crime, the Democrat’s lead started shrinking in the polls, suggesting the ads were having their intended effect. Fetterman even felt the need to respond with a crime-focused ad of his own.

Fetterman in Fetterman ad: Doc Oz in his Gucci loafers is attacking me on crime. Dr. Oz wouldn’t last two hours here in Braddock.

Rakich: Did you catch that dig at Oz’s wealth? It’s one of many lines of attack Democrats have used against Oz. Here’s a trippy ad slamming Oz for promoting unproven medical treatments on his TV show.

Lynne in Fetterman ad: Doc Oz made a fortune on TV. I remember his show. He had a magic pill for everything. … Dr. Oz pushed all those pills, and he knew they didn’t really work.

Rakich: The onslaught of ads against Oz has kept his popularity underwater. In a recent poll from the Pennsylvania AARP, only 38 percent of likely Pennsylvania voters had a favorable view of Oz, and 50 percent had an unfavorable one.

But Oz has been trying to pump those numbers up, with his own ads extolling political moderation and his medical background.

Oz in Oz ad: We need more balance and less extremism in Washington. I’m not a politician; I’m a heart surgeon. More importantly, a husband and a dad. I’m running to improve people’s lives. It’s what doctors do.

Rakich: And it may well work. The Pennsylvania Senate race has tightened significantly in recent weeks. And if Fetterman or Oz ends up winning by only a point or two, they could have their TV ads to thank.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Anna Rothschild was FiveThirtyEight’s senior producer for video.


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