MYERSTOWN, PA – Larry Mitko voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But the Republican from Beaver County, western Pennsylvania, says he has no plans to endorse his party’s Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz — “no way, no way.”
Mitko doesn’t feel like he knows the famed heart surgeon, who narrowly won the May primary with Trump’s endorsement. Instead, Mitko plans to vote for Oz’s Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a name he’s familiar with since Fetterman was mayor of nearby Braddock.
“Dr. Oz hasn’t shown me one thing to make me vote for him,” he said. “I will not vote for a person I do not know.”
Mitko’s thinking underscores the political challenges facing Trump and the rest of the GOP as the former president heads to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for his first rally of the general election season.
While Trump’s endorsements have won numerous Republican primaries this summer, many of the candidates he has endorsed have been inexperienced and disparate figures who are now competing in their own November races. That threatens control of the Senate — once considered a stronghold for Republicans.
Those candidates include Oz in Pennsylvania, author J.D. Vance in Ohio, venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona and former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia.
“Republicans have fielded a number of candidates who have never run for the Senate before,” said veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres. So far, he is not discounting his party’s chances, but he said: It is a much more difficult task than a candidate who has won several hard-fought political elections.
The stakes are especially high for Trump as he lays the groundwork for an anticipated 2024 presidential race amid a series of mounting legal challenges, including the FBI’s recent seizure of classified documents at his Florida home. Investigators are also continuing to investigate his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
President Joe Biden delivered a prime-time speech in Philadelphia last week, warning that Trump and other “MAGA” Republicans — short for Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” — pose a threat to US democracy. Biden tried to frame the upcoming vote, like the 2020 election, as a battle for the “soul of the nation.” Biden’s Labor Day visit to Pittsburgh will be his third visit to the state in a week, a sign of Pennsylvania’s importance in an election year.
Once seen as a good chance for Republicans to take control of both houses of Congress in November amid soaring inflation, high gas prices and Biden’s falling approval ratings, Republicans have found themselves on the defensive after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade defense decision abortion rights.
Some candidates, such as Doug Mastriano, the stalwart GOP gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania, are sticking to their campaign trail, hoping they can win by appealing to Trump’s loyal base, even if they alienate more moderate voters.
Mastriano, who wants to ban abortions even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or threatens the life of the mother, played a leading role in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election and was seen outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. , when pro-Trump rioters stormed the building.
But others are trying to broaden their appeal by removing links from their websites to anti-abortion messages that don’t align with the political mainstream. Masters, for example, removed statements from the political section of his website that called him “100% pro-life” and the words: “If we had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today.” Others are downplaying Trump’s once prominent approval rating.
Climate change has sparked rounds of finger-pointing in the party, including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who last month called the “quality of the candidate” less likely to see Republicans regain control of the Senate in November.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said those who complain about the party’s nominees are “contemptuous” of the voters who elected them.
“This is an astonishing act of cowardice, and ultimately a betrayal of the conservative cause,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner.
Trump also opened the response by calling McConnell a “disgrace” as he defended the party’s slate of nominees.
“There are very good people,” he said in a radio interview. “You know, it takes a lot of courage to run, and they’re spending their fortunes and putting their reputations on the line.”
Democrats also piled on.
“Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles, and Republicans have fielded a deeply flawed slate of recruits,” said David Bergstein, communications director for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. He credited Trump for discouraging experienced Republicans from running, fielding flawed candidates and forcing them to take positions that don’t resonate with voters.
“All these factors contributed to the weakness of the list of Republican candidates that remained with them,” he said. A spokesman for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans hope Oz’s shortcomings as a candidate will be overshadowed by concerns over Fetterman, who suffered a stroke days before the primary and was out for most of the summer. He continues to maintain a light public schedule and was clearly struggling to speak at a recent event.
Republicans admit that Oz is trying his best to appear genuine and is taking his time to fight back, as Fetterman spent the summer trolling him on social media and framing him as an untouchable doormat from New Jersey.
While Fetterman, derided by Republicans as “Bernie Sanders in leotards,” leads Oz in the polls and fundraising, Republicans say they expect the cash gap to close and are happy to see Oz in close proximity after how he got $20 million for negative publicity during the primaries.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is helping fund a new round of Oz TV ads, and the Senate Leadership Fund, the super political action committee backing McConnell, says it has added $9.5 million to the TV buy, bringing its total commitment to $34.1 million before the election. Day.
“Regardless of what people may have heard in the primary, they will realize that Oz is the best choice for Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania Republican National Committeeman Andy Reilly.
A super PAC supporting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says it has made $32 million in television ad bookings in the state.
Oz has won over some once-skeptical voters, such as Glenn Rubendahl, who didn’t vote for the TV doctor in the seven-election primary — a victory so narrow that the statewide vote was recounted — but said he’s come around.
“I listened to him talk, and now I have an Oz perspective,” said Rubendahl, a retired state corrections officer.
Tracy Martin, a registered independent candidate, also plans to vote for Oz because she opposes abortion, despite ads that ran during the primary that featured statements from Oz that appeared to support abortion rights.
“I hope he is (against abortion),” Martin said, “but the sad thing is that we live in an age where we see politicians saying one thing and doing another.”
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Brian Slodiska in Washington contributed to this report.
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