Among the many surprisingly positive outcomes for Democrats on Tuesday night was Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman earning a comfortable-ish win for the state’s open Senate seat, previously held by a Republican. Fetterman, the former mayor of the Rust Belt borough of Braddock, appears to have outperformed Joe Biden’s margin of victory over Donald Trump across the state, including in rural areas. He also overcame legitimate questions about—and needlessly cruel attacks against—his health, as Fetterman is struggling with his auditory processing following a stroke he suffered on the eve of the Democratic primary.
But most importantly, Fetterman beat New Jersey–based, crudité-loving, TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.
It wasn’t a guarantee. Fetterman ran several points behind the winning Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Josh Shapiro. It’s easy to imagine that a strong Republican candidate could have beaten Fetterman in a race that may well determine control of the Senate.
Indeed, Republicans had a real opportunity to select that strong challenger for the seat, specifically the relatively moderate hedge fund manager and former Treasury Department official David McCormick, who finished second in the Republican primary by just 951 votes. But it was Dr. Oz who clinched the nomination, thanks almost entirely to a high-profile endorsement by Donald Trump.
Oz proved to be more of a piteous MAGA villain than a frightening one. He spent much of the summer being mocked on social media for actually being from New Jersey and not Pennsylvania, for saying he owns only “two” homes and “ten properties,” and most of all, for going to a grocery store he described by the made-up name of Wegner’s to purchase crudité, guacamole, and margaritas in a farcical attempted demonstration of the horrors of inflation.
Perhaps more disturbingly, Oz, a medical doctor, spent the final weeks and months of the campaign essentially tormenting Fetterman for having suffered a stroke. Oz ran one ad in August, for example, with a cut-animation version of Fetterman’s head cracked open and his supposedly crazy policies and thoughts dumping out of it. Oz’s campaign adviser mocked Fetterman for not eating enough vegetables, seeming to try to point to Fetterman’s large build as a reason for his stroke. And he sarcastically offered to “pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby” during their lone debate. Oz continued this approach well into October and leaned into it after Fetterman’s issues with auditory processing became very apparent during that debate. It was all as cruel, petty, and dumb as it sounds.
Now Oz will have to slink back to one of his several homes—probably one in New Jersey. What his political prospects are now is relatively unclear, since Oz seems to have failed to be embraced by the MAGA voting contingent, who actively complained about their hero Trump putting his thumb on the scale for the fellow reality TV star. And after he unceremoniously fired the entire staff of his TV show out of the blue to take on this campaign, leaving them “blindsided,” “depressed,” with “no health benefits,” and infuriated at their “heartless and selfish” boss, it seems unlikely Oz will have a syndicated talk show to return to either.
He could always go back to his day job. Despite his lack of bedside manner, he’s actually pretty good at heart surgery.
Fetterman will head to the Senate. Speaking in front of a crowd tonight, he seemed much more comfortable than he did at the debate.
“We launched this campaign almost two years ago, and we had our slogan—it’s on every one of those signs right now—‘Every County, Every Vote,’ ” Fetterman told his supporters. “And that’s exactly what happened: We jammed them up. We held the line. I never expected that we were going to turn these red counties blue, but we did what we needed to do and we had those conversations across every one of those counties, and tonight that’s why I’ll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.”
That approach may also have allowed Democrats to retain control of the Senate for at least the next two years.