So You Want to Be a Senator From Pennsylvania

OK, people. Time for some real political drama. Pennsylvania! Pennsylvania! Pennsylvania!

Surprised you, didn’t I? But really, the Senate race there has it all. Swing state that could very well decide who holds the majority in the Senate and whether the rest of President Biden’s agenda has any real chance of getting passed.

And the main candidates — the Republican, Mehmet Oz, and the Democrat, John Fetterman — are a stupendous diversion. You have the big, heavy issues, naturally, but they’ve also been fighting about stuff like where Oz actually lives and the right word to use for vegetables in the supermarket.

Remember that last one? In an ongoing attempt to prove he’s just a regular guy and not a superrich TV personality with multiple expensive homes, Oz released a video of himself shopping for groceries and blaming Biden for the high cost of “crudité.”

Imagine the euphoria in the Fetterman camp after that one. “In PA, we call this a veggie tray,” the candidate tweeted happily.

Fetterman also released a video of three women wearing broccoli costumes. I know this doesn’t tell you a whole lot about what the candidates would do with, say, military spending. But you have to admit it’s a conversation maker.

Oz is an accomplished heart surgeon and a TV personality who became famous for giving out health tips on Oprah Winfrey’s show. Most of his advice is perfectly reasonable. Really, that time he warned women that carrying a cellphone in their bras might cause breast cancer was long, long ago.

Fetterman is Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, running as a regular guy who’ll wear a sweatshirt and shorts for pretty much anything from a picnic to a news conference to guiding the president on a tour of a bridge collapse. One of the duties of his job is to head the state Pardons Board, and you will not be surprised to hear that Oz is constantly reminding voters that he recommended pardons for people who were, um, convicts.

One of the big talking points in the Senate race is residency. It’s certainly an issue that works for Fetterman, who has a tattoo on his arm advertising the ZIP code of the town where he once served as mayor. Oz made his home in a pretty fabulous New Jersey mansion during his precampaign days. Now, of course, he’s acquired a place in Pennsylvania. But Fetterman cannot remind the state too often that this is a rather recent development. (Democrats have a highway billboard near the state border telling motorists they’re “now leaving” New Jersey for Pennsylvania, “JUST LIKE DR. OZ.”)

Issue-wise, Oz and Fetterman certainly diverge, although there has been a bit of squirming around. Particularly on the part of Oz, who used to be for gun control but became a Second Amendment fiend during the Republican Senate primary campaign. His abortion position is evolving. He emerged from that primary as “strongly pro-life” but now reminds voters he isn’t keen to punish anybody involved in terminating a pregnancy.

Lately, Fetterman’s health has loomed large. He suffered a stroke in May, and while he’s certainly been getting better, there’s no question he still suffers from the effects, including what he calls “auditory processing” issues.

Oz, in one of his very least charming tweets, sent out a picture of Fetterman in what looks like boxer shorts, his rather expansive stomach bare, calling him “Basement Bum.” Oz’s communications adviser claimed that if Fetterman had “ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke.”

Given what a very, very big deal the outcome of the Pennsylvania race might be, it’s natural that things would go a little crazy. We can actually cheer the fact that it isn’t truly worse — that there’s been little focus on the fact that Oz, who describes himself as a “secular Muslim,” has maintained dual citizenship with Turkey.

(Well, there’s been little focus from the Fetterman folk. In the primary, some of the other Republican candidates did try to make it a big deal.)

Since Fetterman’s stroke restricted his campaigning, the race has focused more and more on the candidate debate. It looks as though there’s going to be only one, on Oct. 25.

People, does this seem worrisome to you? Fetterman has been pulling farther and farther ahead in the polls, and there’s a definite feeling around that the debate is all that’s standing between him and the Senate seat.

In normal circumstances, that’s unnerving; political history is full of stories about candidates who lost their lead when they blurted out one stupid thing. And let me admit that when Gov. Rick Perry forgot the name of one of the federal agencies he would eliminate if elected president, I reminded you of his “oops” moment constantly until his candidacy went down the drain.

But that was Rick Perry, a terrible candidate running to be leader of the free world. Sort of a different situation. And Fetterman should be fine, right? Right?

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Back to top button