PHILADELPHIA — A victory by Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania is increasingly becoming the linchpin to GOP hopes for a Senate majority, as the party grows more confident about a win in Nevada but more nervous about its chances in Georgia.
Over the last week, the first batch of polls conducted in Georgia following allegations that GOP nominee Herschel Walker paid for a woman’s abortion in 2009 showed Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) opening up a slight lead. His performance improved in four separate polls, and he now holds an average of a 3 percentage point lead over Walker.
At the same time, the race in Pennsylvania has tightened, with Oz cutting into Democratic nominee John Fetterman’s long-held lead and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifting the race back into its toss-up column.
Barring an upset in a state like Arizona or Colorado, a GOP loss in Georgia means Republicans would have to win Pennsylvania and Nevada in order to nab the 51 seats needed, putting increased pressure on Oz to topple Fetterman.
“Given the revelations around Walker in the last two weeks, Oz’s stock, in combination with the race closing, has risen,” one GOP strategist told The Hill.
The strategist added that recent internal polling showed that Oz has finally drawn even after trailing Fetterman for months, boosting the party’s hopes with just more than three weeks to go.
“The trajectory of the race is just so good,” the strategist added.
In an interview with The Hill on Thursday before a campaign event centered on crime and safety, Oz downplayed any pressure the recent shifts in the national landscape have put on his push to keep the seat of retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in GOP hands.
“I’ve always found a passion to win independent of whatever else was going on,” Oz said, adding that he believes Republicans will win 52 seats. “I think Pennsylvania is critical, and it’s an important state to have at least one Republican senator because you don’t want to have a situation where north of North Carolina you don’t have any Republican senators north of the Atlantic Seaboard before you get to Maine.”
To be sure, Republicans are still putting resources into Georgia and have rushed to Walker’s defense after the report of his abortion payment was reported on Oct. 3. The former University of Georgia running back has denied the claims, which have not been independently verified by The Hill.
Last week, Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who chairs the Senate GOP campaign arm, and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) campaigned alongside Walker.
The Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), a group run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), continues to plow funds into the Georgia contest. According to recent campaign finance reports, the SLF has spent $24 million in Georgia.
And while Republicans may be growing increasingly confident that Oz will defeat Fetterman next month, but it is by no means a fait accompli and the party is spending significant resources in Pennsylvania as well.
The SLF has spent nearly $32 million to boost Oz against Fetterman, including a nearly $10 million ad buy in early August when the GOP nominee was struggling mightily.
“Pennsylvania was always key. I don’t know that it’s more important than it was 4 months ago,” one Pennsylvania-based GOP operative said. “Everybody who knew what John Fetterman’s record was wasn’t running away from the race.”
However, Fetterman significantly outraised the former television doctor and retired cardiologist between July and September, $22 million to $10 million. Included in Oz’s total is a $7 million loan the candidate gave to his operation.
Oz conceded in the interview that Fetterman has a superior small-dollar operation that has given him the leg up on the financial side.
“What I’ve learned about the fundraising process is that you have to have a really big digital fundraising machine. If you’re a newbie to the game, you don’t have — as Fetterman has — six years to build up the database of hundreds of thousands of names who will give you $100 at a shot, $200 at a shot.”
“I raise my money the old fashioned way: I called people. I held events, potlucks. I did whatever I could to bring folks in, and once they understood me, they contributed more,” Oz said. “It’s hard to build those names in a short campaign.”
Lately, the contest has turned personal. Oz and SLF are panning Fetterman over the airwaves for his tax history and economic stances, along with seizing on the issue of crime to criticize the lieutenant governor for his role as the chairman of the Board of Pardons.
Republicans are also increasingly bringing up concerns about Fetterman’s health.
Fetterman and outside groups, on their parts, have put big bucks behind ads discussing his stroke and defending his ability to serve as a senator, and attacking Oz over treatments he promoted on his show.
The two will meet on Oct. 25 for the lone debate of the general election.