PHILADELPHIA — Mehmet Oz can’t just rely on Republican votes in November, and he acted like a candidate who knows it as he made his latest pitch Thursday to voters in a heavily Democratic city less than four weeks before Election Day.
Oz, the GOP’s Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, is locked in an airtight battle with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) that has grown more contentious by the week.
To win, Oz needs to fire up Republicans by landing blows against his Democratic opponent, while also courting moderates in both parties and independents who polls show are backing state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) in the gubernatorial race against state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R).
According to the latest public polls, Shapiro holds a double-digit lead over Mastriano while Oz is narrowing trailing Fetterman.
That means Oz needs a number of those people supporting Shapiro to cross over and back him in the Senate race.
In the final weeks, Oz is going all-out to court them.
“The No. 1 question the moderate voters on both sides of the aisle are asking is: Are you going to fix stuff or complain about the other team,” Oz told The Hill in an interview. “And they’re pretty brutal about these questions. They’re just sick and tired of what they see as pandering to the far extremes without actually dealing with the crises that are afflicting this country.”
“I’ll work with whoever I have to. All of us are smarter than any of us, and I get that message out as many ways as I can. I don’t stand for the extremes on these positions, so I look right up the middle and see what would actually work to deal with the crises,” he continued.
During the interview, Oz notably did not take an opportunity to criticize Shapiro when asked about their relationship and, instead, turned the answer around to pan Fetterman.
“You know, I have not really looked at his candidacy with any detail,” Oz said of the state’s attorney general.
“He’s served the commonwealth and he has a record to run on. … I do know that the person I’m running against has not agreed with him on a lot of issues,” he added. “But I am focused on John Fetterman, and it’s precisely why I think he’s further to the left than where most Pennsylvanians will be accepting.”
Multiple Pennsylvania-based GOP operatives have indicated that they believe the unpopularity of Mastriano could be a drag on Oz in November.
If Mastriano finishes with a percentage of the vote in the low 40s, it could be difficult for Oz to win, they predict.
In other competitive Senate races, Republican candidates may get help from the governor on the ballot.
For example, in Ohio, where Republican J.D. Vance is locked in a tight race against Rep. Tim Ryan (D), the GOP candidate could be helped by voters who turn out to back Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who is on a glide path to reelection and leads by a wide margin.
“If you’re crazy, I won’t vote for you,” said Tricia Pinto, 62, a longtime Republican and Philadelphia native who attended Thursday’s event and said she is voting for Shapiro over Mastriano. “Shapiro does a good thing for Pennsylvania. He’s a Democrat, but he makes a difference.”
“They’re going to make the difference. I like their values,” she said about Shapiro and Oz, adding that safety, jobs, inflation and crime are her top-of-mind issues.
Thursday’s event marked the fifth “Safer Streets” discussion Oz has hosted, which took place before a small room filled with roughly 40 people — a total that was equaled by the number of campaign staff and media members combined. Oz and Republicans have used the issue of crime to gain on Fetterman in polls.
The events come at a crucial time for Oz as he continues to try to convince Pennsylvania voters that he is their guy. For months, Oz has faced attacks that he isn’t a true Pennsylvanian, marking a notable contrast with the former Braddock, Pa., mayor, and struggled to win support from his own party.
Amid his push to win middle-of-the road voters, Oz is confident he has brought the party to his side.
“I think the conservative base of the Republican Party is pretty confident that I’m their person,” Oz said. “That’s partly because my positions align with theirs and after a year of talking to me, I think a lot of people have gotten comfortable. … Now those messages are percolating out. ‘You know, I wasn’t sure about him.’ ‘He did sort of know his stuff.’ ‘I really, in my heart, believe he thinks what I believe.’ So that’s helping me a lot.”
In addition, campaign swings like Thursday also signify Oz’s push to win votes from places that aren’t usually paid much attention to by Republicans. Even though portions of South Philadelphia can lean GOP, the city writ large remains deeply Democratic. President Biden defeated former President Trump by a 64-point margin in the city two years ago.
Melvin Prince, an African American business owner based in East Falls, said that he supports Oz because of entrepreneurship and the lack of attention local Democratic politicians have paid to the area.
“The opportunity will only coexist when you have people from that community with those dollars to change their community,” said Prince, a longtime GOP voter. However, he noted that he is sitting out the governor race entirely.
Oz’s attempt to win centrist voters is also likely to be on full display in less than two weeks when he and Fetterman take part in the lone debate of the general election campaign.