The Senate race has not received as much money and attention as the fierce and divisive contest between Republican Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania and Democrat John Fetterman.
And with more than a million votes already cast and Election Day just hours away, the reason is clear: Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s retirement in a state won by President Joe Biden two years ago has created the Democrats’ best chance to take the seat and save themselves. narrow majority For Republicans, holding on to the seat is key to overcoming that majority.
“This is a must-win race,” said Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, the top Senate Republican super PAC that has flooded the state with tens of millions of ads attacking Fetterman. “We believe that if we win Pennsylvania, we win the majority.”
Although Democrats gleefully conceded they are unlikely to retain control of the House on Tuesday, control of the Senate is arguably the most watched battle on Election Day. Republicans only need a net gain of one seat. Democrats are focused on protecting incumbents in Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire and Georgia and possibly flipping seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio.
But it’s the Pennsylvania race that both parties see as critical. From Labor Day to Election Day, both parties will spend nearly $160 million on ads, more than any other Senate race, according to ad tracker AdImpact.
“The bottom line is if the Democrats are able to flip the incumbent Republican seat, there’s probably no way the Republicans are going to get to 51 votes in the Senate,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic operative based in Western Pennsylvania. “Democrats give them a breather, if any incumbent goes down, this is the buffer. And the opposite is true. If for some reason we can’t win here, it’s going to be a bad night in a lot of states.”
That importance was clear as Oz and Fetterman criss-crossed the commonwealth in the final week of the campaign, trying to appeal to last-minute voters and asking long-decided voters to get their friends and family to the polls now.
“It’s a jump ball,” Fetterman said bluntly Sunday in Harrisburg. “On Tuesday, it will come down to every vote.”
“I have a job. … Win this race. You’re the key,” said Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the head of the Republican committee responsible for taking control of the Senate, who introduced Oz on Thursday. “You want a majority for the Senate? Yes. It’s coming through Pennsylvania.”
Recent polls show Fetterman with a slight edge, but a narrower margin than he enjoyed this summer. A Marist College poll conducted from late October to early November found Fetterman with 50 percent of registered voters’ support, compared to Oz’s 44 percent. A New York Times/Siena College poll found a similar result among likely voters: Fetterman with 49% support to Oz’s 44%.
Few races across the country have had the kind of upheaval that has changed the contest in Pennsylvania, where 1,085,353 votes had been cast as of Sunday, according to Catalist, a company that provides data, analysis and other services to Democrats. academics and organizations promoting non-profit issues.
While Fetterman easily won the Democratic primary in May, carrying every county in Pennsylvania, Oz was forced to spend millions in a contentious battle that divided all segments of the Republican electorate, leaving the candidate battered by sinking approval ratings as the general election began.
Just days before the primary, however, Fetterman suffered a near-fatal stroke that forced him off the campaign trail for two months, affecting his speech and ability to process what he was hearing and forcing him into a race that forced the Democrat to recover. in public
Despite the stroke, Fetterman and his campaign used the summer to open up a big advantage in Oz, capitalizing on his poor ties to Pennsylvania, the Republican questions about him that opened up in the primary, and the Democratic energy felt around the Supreme Court decision. overturn Roe v. Wade. But as Oz’s campaign got under way in late summer, aided by millions in outside spending, Fetterman came under repeated attacks on crime. Surveys that followed the rise in spending showed a tightening race.
Republicans had hoped, however, that the first and only debate between Oz and Fetterman in October would put Oz squarely on the line, as some of the Democrats’ struggles during the debate highlighted the ongoing recovery from the stroke. But in a recently released Monmouth University poll, only 3 percent of voters said the debate caused them to reconsider their choice in the race.
For top Republicans, it’s a victory that the race is so close after Oz’s summer of slog.
“Oz has done a really good job of going out and being everywhere to address those concerns,” said Matthew Brouillette, founder and president of Commonwealth Partners, a Republican super PAC in Pennsylvania. “When people hear him and get to know him, it’s easy to see him go from skeptic to supportive. I had that experience myself.”
A senior Republican working in Senate races was more direct about how the party was concerned over the summer that Oz seemed unable to make it from the primary to the general.
“It was clear, given the evidence, that the way the race was trending there was a risk of slipping off the map completely,” this person said. “It would have been disastrous.”
The importance of the race was on full display on Saturday, when the last three presidents – one current, two former – traveled to the state to ask the same voters who helped them win the presidency to come out and support their party.
“This could be the vote that makes the difference between a country and not a country,” former President Donald Trump said in his push for Oz. “It could be 51 it could be 50,” he said of the balance of power in the Senate. “For 49 Republicans, this country — I don’t know if it’s going to live another two years.”
Biden and former President Barack Obama also increased the pressure on the commonwealth.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party. This is a different breed of cat,” Biden said, urging voters to back Fetterman.
The former Democratic president offered a more stark warning, warning Democrats against making the same midterm mistakes that changed his presidency.
“I can tell you from experience that midterms matter a lot,” said Obama, who lost the House majority in 2010 and the Senate majority in 2014. “When I was president, I got my ass in the midterm elections. … I don’t look back very far, but sometimes I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if enough people had turned out for that election.”
Few voters who pay attention to the race remain undecided, the reality of a polarized commonwealth that has spent hundreds of millions on political campaigns this cycle.
“I decided a long time ago that I was going to vote for John Fetterman,” said Michelle Schofield, a 48-year-old mother from Delaware County. “This election is so much bigger than John Fetterman. We need it in the Senate.”
For Oz, this dynamic is amplified because he is almost universally known as a famous TV doctor who spent years on national television.
“I love that man. I think he’s going to do a good job,” said independent voter Sarah Barrett of Moscow, Pennsylvania. “When I saw that he was running, I did, because I feel like people care. I felt that while watching the show. I feel that now.’
This story has been updated with additional developments.