MYERSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Larry Mitko has voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But the Republican from Beaver County in western Pennsylvania said he was not considering supporting his party’s Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz – ‘no way, no how’ .
Mitko doesn’t feel like he knows the famed heart surgeon, who narrowly won his May primary with Trump’s backing. Instead, Mitko plans to vote for Oz Democratic rival John Fetterman, a name he has known from when Fetterman was mayor of nearby Braddock.
“Dr. Oz didn’t show me anything to vote for him,” he said. “I won’t vote for anyone I don’t know.
Mitko’s thought underscores the political challenges facing Trump and the rest of the Republican Party as the former president travels to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Saturday for his first rally of the general election season. While Trump landed a long list of GOP primary victories this summer, many of the candidates he elevated were inexperienced and polarizing figures who are now struggling in their general election races, putting control of the Senate – once assumed be a lock for Republicans – on the line.
They include Oz in Pennsylvania, author JD Vance in Ohio, venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona and former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia.
“Republicans have now nominated a number of candidates who have never run before for high-profile Senate races,” veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. Although he is not yet writing his party’s odds, he said, “It’s a much tougher business than a candidate who had won several tough political races before.”
The stakes are especially high for Trump as he lays the groundwork for an expected presidential election in 2024 amid a growing series of legal challenges, including the FBI’s recent seizure of tons of classified documents. from his Mar-a-Lago club. Investigators are also continuing to probe his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
This week, President Joe Biden delivered a prime-time speech in Philadelphia. warning that Trump and other “MAGA” Republicans pose a threat to American democracy as he tries to frame the midterm elections – as he did in the 2020 election – as a battle for “the ‘soul of the nation’.
While Republicans were once seen as having a good chance of taking control of both houses of Congress in November amid soaring inflation, high gas prices and falling approval ratings for Biden, Republicans have found themselves on the defense since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision protecting the right to abortion.
Some candidates, like Doug Mastriano, the hard-line GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, are sticking to their primary campaign playbooks, hoping they can win by weeding out Trump’s loyal base even if they alienate more moderate voters. Mastriano, who wants to ban abortions even when pregnancies are the result of rape or incest or endanger the mother’s life, played a leading role in Trump’s efforts to void the election of 2020 and was seen outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. , as pro-Trump rioters stormed the building.
But others have tried to broaden their appeal, removing references from their websites to anti-abortion messages that are out of step with the political mainstream. Masters, for example, removed language from a political section of its website. who called him “100% pro-life,” along with terms that read, “if we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today.” Others played down Trump’s endorsements that once figured prominently.
The changing climate has prompted the party to be singled out, including by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who last month cited ‘candidate quality’ as he lowered expectations that Republicans would resume Senate control in November.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, hit back, saying those who complain about the party’s candidates have “contempt” for the voters who chose them.
“This is an act of incredible cowardice, and ultimately a betrayal of the conservative cause,” he wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Examiner.
Trump also hit back, calling McConnell a “shame” as he defended the party’s slate of candidates.
“There are some really good people out there,” he said in a radio interview. “You know, it takes a lot of courage to race and they spend their wealth on it and they put their reputation on the line.”
Democrats also stacked.
“Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles, and Republicans have presented a slate of deeply flawed recruits,” said David Bergstein, communications director for the Senate Democratic campaign committee. He credited Trump with deterring experienced Republicans from running, elevating flawed candidates and forcing them into positions out of step with the general electorate.
“All of these factors have contributed to the weakness of the Republican candidate slate they have left,” he said. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans are hoping Oz’s shortcomings as a candidate will be overshadowed by worries about Fetterman, who suffered a stroke days before the primary and was sidelined for much of the year. ‘summer. He continues to keep a light public schedule and obviously struggled to speak at a recent event.
Republicans admit Oz struggles to come across as authentic and has been slow to fight back as Fetterman spent the summer following him on social media and portraying him as an out-of-touch baggage handler from New Jersey. As Fetterman, whom Republicans mock as ‘Bernie Sanders in gym shorts,’ leads Oz in polls and fundraising, Republicans say they expect the money gap to narrow and are happy to see Oz within reach after being hammered by $20 million in negative publicity during the primaries.
The Republican National Senate Committee is helping fund a new series of Oz TV ads, and the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned super PAC, says it added $9.5 million to its TV purchase, which which brings its overall commitment to $34.1 million by Election Day.
“Regardless of what people may have heard in the primary, they’re going to realize that Oz is the best choice for Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania Republican National Committee Member Andy Reilly.
A super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, claims to have made $32 million in TV ad bookings in the state.
Oz won over some once-skeptical voters, like Glen Rubendall, who did not vote for the TV doctor in his seven-vote primary – a victory so narrow it was recounted statewide – but said he had returned.
“I listened to him speak, and now I have a pro-Oz perspective,” said Rubendall, a retired corrections officer.
Traci Martin, a registered independent, also plans to vote for Oz because she opposes abortion, despite ads running during the primary with past statements from Oz that appeared supportive of abortion rights.
“I hope he’s (anti-abortion),” Martin said, “but the saddest thing is that we live in a time where we see politicians saying one thing and doing another.”
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report from Washington.