Commentary

This week is a good time to be a Pennsylvania Democrat | Fletcher McClellan

In the U.S. Senate race, Lt. Governor John Fetterman stretched his June advantage to double digits over Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz, 47%-36%

August 3, 2022 6:30 am

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

Pennsylvania Democrats received good news last week from a Fox News poll showing their candidates for governor and U.S. Senator with strong leads over their Republican rivals.

According to the survey, taken July 22-26 with a +/- 3% margin of error, Attorney General Josh Shapiro leads State Senator Doug Mastriano, 50% to 40%. This is a big improvement for Shapiro, whose lead in polls taken in June was 3-4 points, within the margin of error.

In the U.S. Senate race, Lt. Governor John Fetterman stretched his June advantage to double digits over Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz, 47%-36%.

Though the findings appeared from just one poll, the Fox News survey is significant. It was the first reputable poll administered after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which took away abortion rights.

The survey also came after the eighth and, for now, last public hearing of the House select committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Both events cut hard against Mastriano. The Franklin County representative has a “no exceptions” position on abortion and supports a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Furthermore, Mastriano joined the mob at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and was involved in the scheme to replace Joe Biden electors chosen by state voters with fake delegates committed to President Trump.

The Dobbs decision has galvanized Democrats. Abortion is Pennsylvania Democrats’ number one issue, the Fox News poll revealed, and abortion voters are polling strongly for Shapiro and Fetterman.

Oz’s biggest problem is not issues but Fetterman’s campaign.

Though the lieutenant governor has been off the campaign trail for nearly three months while recuperating from a stroke, his campaign messages have effectively portrayed the TV personality as a rich, entitled carpetbagger from New Jersey.

Over one-half of voters polled by Fox said they were “extremely” or “very” concerned that Oz was not familiar enough with Pennsylvania to carry out the job of senator effectively.

Bruised also by a rugged GOP primary battle, Oz is viewed favorably by just 35% of those sampled and unfavorably viewed by 55%.

In contrast, almost 50% have a favorable opinion of Fetterman and 35% have an unfavorable opinion. A stunning 68% of Fetterman supporters are enthusiastic about their candidate, compared to only 35% of Oz voters who are devotees.

There is a similar cast of opinions in the governor’s race. Slightly over one-half of those polled have favorable views of Shapiro and 34% have unfavorable views. Mastriano is viewed unfavorably by 47% and favorably by 38%. Shapiro’s supporters are twice as enthusiastic about their candidate as are Mastriano’s followers.

Oz and Mastriano still have hope. Inflation is the top issue among all Pennsylvania voters, an issue that overwhelmingly favors the Republicans.

The biggest things going for Pennsylvania Republicans are history and the low approval rating of President Biden.

Nearly always, political parties not in control of the White House win the midterm elections.

Out-party supporters tend to be more inspired to vote and, indeed, over 80% of Oz and Mastriano supporters say they are highly motivated, a figure about ten points higher than that of Democratic supporters.

The Fox News poll, it should be noted, reported opinions of registered, not likely voters. In addition, MAGA respondents tend to be under-polled, as survey researchers discovered with Trump voters in 2016 and 2020.

Midterm elections also tend to be referenda on the performance of the president. Pennsylvanians disapprove of the job President Biden is doing, 57% to 42%.

If Oz and Mastriano can harness the ugly national mood – three-fourths of those surveyed in national polls say the country is on the wrong track – against the Democrats, their deficiencies as candidates will not matter.

At least Oz is adjusting his campaign. He supports abortion exceptions and same-sex marriage. Though he owes his nomination to Trump’s endorsement, Oz is not mentioning his patron while campaigning across Pennsylvania.

Mastriano, on the other hand, appears to be stuck. News reports that his campaign paid consultant fees to the social media site Gab, a haven for white Christian nationalists, forced the Republican to deny that he is an anti-Semite. His Democratic opponent is Jewish.

Democrats are benefiting from extremist, unqualified, or inexperienced Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in not only Pennsylvania, but also Ohio, Georgia, and Arizona. So far, ultra-right candidates lead or have won the GOP nominations for governor in Arizona, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland.

As a result, Democrats are now leading the 538 midterm estimates of which party will win the U.S. Senate. Republicans are still favored to take over the U.S. House of Representatives.

However things play out nationally in the next three months, Pennsylvania’s elections will test which factor matters most in contemporary politics – ideological purity, political experience, authenticity, compelling issues, likability, or the best troll game?

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Fletcher McClellan
Fletcher McClellan

Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @mcclelef.

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