Midterm Memo: Oz stakes his Senate bid on crime coming out of unusual debate with Fetterman

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) concluded remarks to highlight his commitment to get tough on crime if elected to the Senate in the midterm elections, then promptly exited through a backdoor without taking any questions from a throng of reporters.

This is what confidence looks like and reflects the momentum Republicans believe they are seeing in the race for an open Pennsylvania Senate seat just hours after Oz’s debate with John Fetterman (D). The lieutenant governor has led Oz in nearly every public opinion poll since early June. But Republicans are convinced that’s about to change (more on that in a moment).

“Dr. Oz is pulling away,” Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity (R) said, rejecting suggestions the race, crucial in the battle for the Senate majority, is in doubt. “Clearly, the tide is turning.”

Garrity was part of a phalanx of prominent Republicans and other Oz supporters, among them former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who joined Oz at the headquarters of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association in Harrisburg, the state capital, to highlight the GOP Senate nominee’s commitment to reducing violent crime and supporting local law enforcement.

In Pennsylvania, public safety may have reached parity with inflation atop the list of voters’ concerns, and Oz is leaning in, using his only public event Wednesday, the day after the debate, to magnify the differences on the issue between himself and Fetterman. The lieutenant governor is an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and has supported paroling some inmates convicted of violent crimes.

“I vow, here and now, that as a U.S. senator, I’ll do the right thing for our communities,” Oz said in remarks lasting about 10 minutes. “I’m going to let police do their jobs. I want our prosecutors to do their jobs.”

“I’m speaking for many who can’t speak for themselves,” Oz added. “Many folks inside, certainly the big cities, tell me they feel like they’re part of a social experiment, where people — this is their words — white woke people make rules, and they’re stuck with the problem. And if you look at it objectively, it doesn’t seem too far from the truth.”

MURKOWSKI AND PELTOLA BUCK PARTY LINES TO ENDORSE EACH OTHER AGAINST TRUMP-BACKED CANDIDATE

For all of Oz’s experience in television as the host of a syndicated medical talk show for more than a decade before he entered politics, he didn’t deliver the greatest of performances Tuesday evening. The Republican flubbed an exchange with Fetterman on abortion rights and dodged a moderator’s question on the bipartisan gun safety law championed by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).

But the discussion surrounding the one and only Oz-Fetterman showdown has been completely dominated by analysis of, and reaction to, the lieutenant governor’s delivery. Even many Democratic insiders acknowledge it was hard to watch. Fetterman suffered a major stroke in mid-May and is still cognitively impaired. Throughout the debate, he struggled to formulate coherent sentences and respond lucidly to moderators’ questions and Oz’s attacks.

Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

Republicans are very careful about discussing Fetterman’s condition, a politically sensitive topic.

They won’t say the lieutenant governor’s debate presentation is among the key reasons they expect Oz to pull away, finally, less than two weeks before Election Day, after laboring to consolidate GOP voters behind his campaign and shed the carpetbagger image that plagued him because he recently moved to Pennsylvania from New Jersey. Rather, Republicans insist it’s Fetterman’s “extreme” positions on crime and other issues propelling Oz. But the reality is something different.

“As I go across the country, I’m campaigning for a lot of House members and senators, and everybody across the country asks me about Pennsylvania,” Haley said. “The question they ask is: They’re not really going to elect John Fetterman, are they? And do you know why they’re asking that? It’s because they’ve seen what he’s said.”

But it was only after the debate that many Republicans began to breathe a sigh of relief and permit themselves to believe the race was won. We’ll know soon if their exhales were warranted. Now, to the field …

By the #s:

  • President Joe Biden’s job approval rating: RealClearPolitics — 42.9%; FiveThirtyEight — 41.8%.
  • Generic ballot: RealClearPolitics — Republicans edging Democrats 47.8% to 45.4%; FiveThirtyEight — Republicans edging Democrats 45.3% to 44.7%.
  • Direction of the country: RealClearPolitics — right track 26.4%/wrong track 66.8% (FiveThirtyEight average unavailable).

House ratings changes from Cook Political Report with Amy Walter: The nonpartisan handicapper has upped its projections for Republican gains from 10-20 seats to 12-25 seats. Changes include:

  • Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) in Alaska at-large: Toss-up to Lean D
  • Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) in California’s 49th Congressional District: Lean D to Toss-up
  • Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District: Lean D to Toss-up
  • Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District: Likely R to Lean R
  • Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS) in Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District: Toss-up to Lean D
  • Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) in New York’s 17th Congressional District: Lean D to Toss-up
  • North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District — open seat: Lean D to Likely D
  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) in Virginia’s 1st Congressional District: Lean D to Toss-up
  • Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District: Solid D to Likely D
  • Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District — open: Lean R to Likely R

Pennsylvania Senate race. The Senate Leadership Fund is increasing its investment in Oz by $6.2 million, a decision announced just before Tuesday’s one and only debate, televised or otherwise, with Fetterman.

Oz is perhaps on the cusp of overtaking Fetterman in the polls in the race to succeed Toomey, and this race is crucial to GOP prospects for flipping the Senate, so spending as much as it takes to win in Pennsylvania makes sense. But that wasn’t what made Senate Leadership Fund’s fresh infusion of cash into the Pennsylvania contest interesting.

What made it interesting was where it took the money from. The Senate Leadership Fund is the designated super PAC for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). And just days ago, this group announced it was canceling what was left of its advertising buy in New Hampshire and shifting the money to Pennsylvania. And what’s interesting about that?

The Senate Leadership Fund insists otherwise, but its decision to abandon the Granite State came after the Republican nominee there, Don Bolduc, reiterated his opposition to supporting McConnell for another term as the Senate’s No. 1-ranking Republican.

Oz, meanwhile, has signaled he is just fine with McConnell running things for the GOP in the Senate and plans to support him. And yes, McConnell will be elected the Republican Senate leader again, with or without Bolduc, who trails Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) in the polls.

Utah Senate race. Desperate times make for strange bedfellows, apparently.

The Club for Growth, a conservative activist group that doesn’t have much use for pragmatic Republicans willing to work across the aisle, is featuring none other than former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) in its latest television advertisement for Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

I’m rather unconvinced that independent challenger Evan McMullin is going to come close to ousting Lee, at least in an election cycle that is looking more and more like a GOP wave less than two weeks before Election Day.

But McMullin is running an aggressive campaign and has plenty of resources — and has the support of Utah Democrats, who passed on fielding a candidate against Lee in the hopes that an independent might be able to do to a Republican incumbent in this red state what a Democrat simply cannot.

The Club for Growth, a big supporter of Lee’s, isn’t taking any chances, even turning to Huntsman, derided by grassroots conservatives over the years as a “RINO” — “Republican in Name Only” — to make the case for Lee to wavering independent voters and soft-partisans.

You can watch the ad here:

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

2024 watch. Former President Donald Trump’s presumed third White House bid now has a presumed top Republican strategist to run the show: Hard-charging Virginia GOP operative Chris LaCivita.

The Washington Post reports the former president has made no final decisions on his 2024 campaign team, again, presuming there is a 2024 campaign. But LaCivita would be a good fit for the bombastic populist.

He’s a take-no-prisoners political operative and strong personality who has proven effective with controversial assignments — for instance, the outside effort to cast doubt on former Sen. John Kerry’s military record when the Democrat challenged President George W. Bush in 2004.

LaCivita also has proven adept at bringing organization and order to chaotic and underperforming campaigns, as he did in 2014, when the National Republican Senatorial Committee hired him to save the reelection bid of then-Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).

All of this suggests LaCivita is a perfect fit for Trump and his coterie of hangers-on who are constantly giving him questionable advice, whether solicited or unsolicited.

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