The “decisive vote”: Fetterman and Oz made a big bet on the women of Philadelphia’s suburbs

Media, Pennsylvania

While window shopping with friends on leafy West State Street, Jill Walters made it clear that Senate candidates were struggling in the Keystone State.

“I don’t love either of them,” he said here in Media, Pennsylvania, about a half hour west of Philadelphia in the Delaware County seat.

He plans to vote for Democratic Gov. John Fetterman, 46, against Republican candidate Mehmet Oz next month in a hotly contested Commonwealth Senate race. A registered Republican before 2016, Walters switched to the Democratic Party following the rise of former President Donald Trump.

“I’ll go to Fetterman,” he said, absorbed in his choice but reluctant. “It’s hard. Here’s the thing: it’s too polarizing on either end.”

Delaware, Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties—Pennsylvania’s “neck counties”—flank Philadelphia to the south, east, and north, creating a highly educated and affluent buffer between the city’s Democratic stronghold and central sprawl and its increasingly conservative sprawl. state More than 20% of the votes cast in Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential race, about 1.5 million, came from these four suburban counties, where Joe Biden beat Hillary Clinton by an average of 4.2 percentage points., with higher turnout, and Trump matched his vote share from 2016.

In the end, Biden won the state by about 81,000 votes, beating Trump by more than 293,000 votes in the neck counties. When Clinton lost Pennsylvania four years earlier, by more than 44,000 votes, she came out of the counties with an advantage of about 188,000. In surpassing Clinton’s margin here, Clinton more or less made up for it in Philadelphia more than Biden.

Now, with the midterm elections less than three weeks away, the state Senate race — which will be critical to whether Democrats can retain their slim majority in the body — is increasingly focused on these Philadelphia neighborhoods. Both candidates, in their messaging and calendar, have focused on this broad swath of swing voters, especially undecided or uncommitted women, who appear poised to decide the race. Fetterman will hold an event focused on suburban women with Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota in Chester County this weekend.

Walters, who has a teenage daughter, believes the future of abortion rights was a key factor in Fetterman’s ability to block her vote, along with Oz’s alliance with Trump.

When asked how much of a role Trump played in his decision, he paused, and then made a pointed reply: “I switched parties because of him. A guy.”

Trump’s influence is inescapable, for better or for worse. Speaking to CNN on the main thoroughfare of Doylestown, Bucks County, Sharon Jackson said she too switched parties in 2016, from Democrat to Republican.

“I know he’s controversial, but he got the job done,” Jackson said of Trump. “I felt safe. I think many people in our country felt safe with him.”

Although he described himself as “pro-choice”, Jackson expressed concerns about the economy – particularly inflation – and policing and public safety.

Oz is his choice, he added, “I think it’s fair. He’s going in a better direction. Fetterman is for getting rid of the police. He’s for a lot of things I don’t believe in.” (Fetterman has been criticized for the “get rid of the police” movement).

Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, which has polled the race, estimates that about 10 percent of voters statewide are still undecided and that it will be a “decisive vote” in Philadelphia’s suburbs.

“We know that the Democrats have an advantage in more urban areas. “The key question for Democrats is going to be turnout and the support they get among minority communities,” Yost said. “But in the suburbs, it’s going to be a really interesting push between those voters’ concerns about the economy and inflation, and then abortion rights.”

Fetterman has sought to address these issues across the board, but in the final months of the race, like so many Democrats across the country, he has leaned hard on the abortion rights fight, following the Supreme Court’s Roe v. After Wade was revoked in the summer. At a September rally in Blue Bell, a Montgomery County suburb, her campaign handed out pink T-shirts emblazoned with “Fetterwoman” on the front. The candidate, in his speech, “women are the reason to win: don’t anger women”.

“If every abortion is a ‘murder,’ that means Dr. Oz thinks every woman who has had to choose abortion is a murderer,” Fetterman said. he said in a televised town hall in August, referring to a remark by Oz first reported by the Daily Beast.

Oz campaign spokeswoman Brittany Yanick said the Republican is “pro-life with three exceptions: maternal life, rape and incest. And as a senator, he would like to make sure the federal government doesn’t get involved in state decisions.”

Oz did not directly answer whether he would vote for a bill proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, that would impose a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks and provide exemptions necessary to protect the life of the mother. the woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

Although they are largely divided over abortion, both candidates have done everything they can to win over voters in the district. A recent advertisement by Oz threw the competition into sharp relief. In the spot called “Less motorcycle tourism”, he laments the state of the economy, and, with regret in his voice, “guys like John Fetterman take everything to the extreme”.

“Extremes on both sides,” says Oz, “make things worse.”

Fetterman’s campaign immediately responded to the 30-second ad with a web video that begins with Oz’s comment, then cuts to a mix of interview clips and news reports with a scratchy recording sound effect, where Oz has “big concerns.” represents red flag gun laws, a comment calling abortion “murder,” an interview that refuses to describe the events of January 6, 2021 as a “riot,” and ends with Trump himself shouting, “Dr. Oz, who’s with our MAGA movement all the way.”

First-time voter Madison Marinelli, 19, whose family owns a farm and orchard in Delaware County, told CNN she would have voted twice for Trump if she had been old enough, but remains undecided between Oz and Fetterman in the Senate. the race

His family’s business has been hit hard by the recession and the cost of gassing up his truck, about $120 a week, is painful for the young Republican, who is currently studying at Delaware County Community College.

“I think (Biden) didn’t handle a lot of things the right way,” Marinelli said. “I think he didn’t prioritize it properly.”

However, he did not intend to use his vote in the Senate race to send a message to the president.

“I look at the person and what he will do, what he will change. It’s not really, ‘Oh, I’m a Republican.’ I don’t believe in that,” said Marinelli. “I’m not completely well. I don’t go completely left.’

In the end, he said, his decision would come down to which candidate “has more convictions that uphold my moral standards.”

Among those “moral” positions on the list: abortion rights.