By: Karen Shuey – Reading Eagle – July 20, 2022
The race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania has a lot riding on it.
The contest is a critical one when it comes to whether Democrats or Republicans will have control over the upper chamber of Congress after the November general election.
The body is split 50-50 between the two parties, with Democrats having a slight edge thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ role as the tie-breaking vote.
That means every race, and every vote, is crucial. And in a state like Pennsylvania where red and blue are pretty evenly represented, both parties see an immense opportunity.
For Republicans it means holding on to a seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey. For Democrats it means stealing a seat from the other side.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate running for the seat against Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, said the decision voters will have to make ultimately comes down to a simple question: Do they think the nation is headed in the right direction?
“If you are happy, my opponent is a very strong supporter of President Biden and will pull him further to the left on issues that he feels strongly about,” Oz said, sitting inside B2 Bistro + Bar in West Reading on Tuesday afternoon during a visit to Berks County. “If you don’t like where we’re headed, then I’m the other choice.
“It’s a pretty straightforward decision for a lot of Pennsylvanians.”
Oz spent some time in the county Tuesday, touring EnerSys in Bern Township and hosting a private fundraising event. In between, he sat down with the Reading Eagle for a brief discussion about his campaign.
A promise to unify
Oz said that while voters have a question they have to answer this fall, they also have one they have been asking him over and over again on the campaign trail: Can Congress just stop fighting and fix things?
He said the answer is an emphatic yes.
“And so that has been my history,” he said. “I’ve been in people’s homes for nearly 20 years on national television. Folks are used to hearing me talk about some heavy stuff but making sense of it in a unifying way.”
Oz said he can speak clearly to voters about his values without being polarizing, abrasive or arrogant.
“And that’s a different approach than my opponent, so I think that will help me,” he said.
The heart surgeon-turned television personality said he tries to focus on finding solutions to the problems people are experiencing rather than the divisive rhetoric surrounding those issues because people are much more likely to agree when politics are left out of the discussion.
In order to solve problems, Oz said, it’s important to get a firsthand look at them. That’s why he visited EnerSys, a company on the front lines of the country’s energy sector that is looking to overcome challenges from abroad.
“I want to learn more about energy infrastructure,” he said. “The Chinese control 83% of the materials needed to make batteries. And so we lose autonomy because we are dependent on them for the raw materials.”
Oz said that if the U.S. really wants to commit to investing in green energy the government will need to find solutions to those kinds of problems. He said the same is true for the pharmaceutical industry, expressing a desire for more products to be produced on American soil.
“These are really national security issues,” he said.
Oz said another issue he wants to address is what he sees as government overreach, preaching about the belief in the superiority of small government.
“People don’t want the government involved in every little thing. They know how to do it themselves,” he said.
He spoke about an apple farmer he met in Erie. The farmer decided he could save money by reducing transportation costs if he opened his farm up to the community so they could pick their own apples.
The farmer would hook a wagon to a tractor to take people down to his orchard. But then the state came by and said the farm had become an amusement park, Oz said, and the farmer was forced to pay a couple hundred dollars in fees.
“That’s not helping,” he said. “No one benefited from that.”
Oz said the federal government needs to work on reducing red tape.
“Many of the regulations that we have may have been well-meaning rules at the time they were made, but they are out of date and out of connection,” he said. “Bureaucracy doesn’t benefit anybody. We need to dramatically reduce the regulatory burden that strangles innovation in America.”
Oz said he also supports a hands-off approach when it comes to one of the most fiercely-debated issues facing the country: abortion rights. He said he thinks that’s a battle the federal government should have no part in.
“As a potential U.S. senator, I do not think the federal government should be interfering with how states make that decision,” he said. “Health care is best offered locally. Citizens who I trust to influence their local legislators have a more direct access to the process if it’s done at the state level and the states are all very different from each other.”
Oz has described himself in the past — including in his campaign material — as “100% pro-life.” He declined to take the opportunity Tuesday to detail what, exactly, that means.
The other piece of Oz’s visit to Berks was dedicated to raising funds for his campaign at a private event.
That type of thing is crucial for any campaign, but perhaps even more so for Oz. That’s because the latest campaign finance reports show he is lagging miles behind Fetterman when it comes to how much cash they’ve been able to raise.
Fetterman entered the summer with nearly five times the available cash that Oz had, according to campaign finance reports. The Democrat reported ending June with about $5.5 million in cash, compared to $1.1 million for Oz.
Overall, Fetterman raised about $10 million over the second quarter months of April, May and June.
Oz brought in $1.1 million, closing the gap a bit by loaning his campaign another $2.2 million. So far, he has pumped $14.2 million of his own money into his Senate campaign.
“I think the amount of money that we spend will be more than 10 times what each of us has already brought in, so we’re at the very beginning,” he said. “I have no concern about our ability to raise enough money to stay competitive.”
Oz said raising money is only one aspect of running a campaign. Another is hitting the trail and meeting people in the communities that he hopes to represent.
And on that measure, he said he is way ahead of his opponent.
Since suffering a stroke and undergoing a surgical procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator in May, Fetterman has been physically absent from the campaign trail and political fundraisers. However, there are media reports that he is expected to make his first major appearance at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
“He’s not engaged,” Oz said of Fetterman. “Our best guess is that he’s going to run Joe Biden-style where he stays home, tries to avoid making mistakes, doesn’t speak much to folks and enlists his team to make social media posts.
“And I’m more concerned about Social Security than social media.”