In Pennsylvania, Oz needs to energize rural voters who rejected him in the primary.


In rural, conservative stretches of Pennsylvania, areas that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020, Oz is a bit of a worry. Many conservative voters in some of these rural counties told CNN they plan to vote for the celebrity doctor. But few were enthused by Oz’s campaign, and the overwhelming reason they plan to support him is their opposition to the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

“Oz was Trump’s candidate, he’s not our candidate,” said Ned Freire, a voter in Bedford County, which the former president won in 2020 with about 83% of the vote.

Freire is a member of a group of retired veterans who meet weekly at the same Route 220 diner to drink coffee and talk politics. Oz stopped by for dinner in February — and narrowly won the country in the May primary. Still, Freer and others are largely inspired by the GOP nominee.

“The people of Bedford County will probably hold their noses and vote for him,” Freire said, “because Fetterman is a serious loss as a candidate.”

Clay Buckingham, another retired veteran, agreed: “That’s how I feel about Oz. I’m sorry I have to vote for him, but I’d rather see him as a senator than Fetterman.”

“I voted for Kathy Barnett in the primary,” added Doug Brendel, another veteran team member. “He was my favorite candidate, but so be it. This is the candidate, so I have to go with him.”

Vote against Fetterman

For many of these voters, the reason they voted for Oz was Fetterman, a candidate they saw as antithetical to their conservative views.

The Democratic nominee tried to reach out to rural voters. He held events last month in counties such as Indiana and Venango, both of which Trump carried with nearly 70% of the vote in 2020. and he Visited Bedford in AprilIn which he emphasized the need to raise the minimum wage and stressed that rural counties should not be overlooked.
“It’s about connecting with voters today and letting them know that they’re not just taken for granted or they’re not just like, ‘This is a red county, why do we care?'” Fetterman said about a month before the stroke that left him two months old. kept off the campaign trail for and covered much of his run against Oz.

Fetterman’s campaign believes his path to victory is keeping Republican margins low in counties like Bedford, increasing his vote totals in urban and suburban areas.

And Democrats may be aided in that effort by the lack of enthusiasm for Oz from the GOP base. A recent CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker survey found that Oz supporters were far less enthusiastic about Fetterman’s campaign than the Democrat’s efforts.

Just 36% of likely Oz voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting for the Republican, while 64% of registered Republicans said they wanted someone else to be nominated, according to the poll. By contrast, 63% of likely Fetterman voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about supporting him, while 77% of registered Democrats said they were “glad he’s the nominee.”

In counties like Bedford and nearby Somerset, however, the country’s polarization is felt more clearly than ever — it’s the hatred for Fetterman, and the fact that he’s a Democrat, that is driving Republicans for Oz.

“Obviously, he’s our favorite candidate now, so we have to support him because red is better than blue,” said Terry Mitchell, a voter in Somerset County, which lost to former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick in the Oz Republican primary.

Guy Barkbill, chair of the Somerset County Republican Party, acknowledged the same: “For some of them, it took a while,” he said of Republicans who harbored fears about Oz. “But they’re realizing that my best option is to vote for Dr. Oz.”

Barkbill hosted Oz at his company Guy Chemical earlier this year. He said there were plenty of local voters at the time who were skeptical of the television doctor.

“We’re a very Christian-oriented, conservative county. They were a little hesitant about Dr. Oz at first. They weren’t sold on his Second Amendment position, a lot of pro-lifers here, if they weren’t sold on whether he was pro-life or not,” Barkbill said before adding , “Voting Fetterman is not an option.”

Brittany Yannick, an Oz campaign spokeswoman, said the campaign is confident of retaining the state’s reddest counties because many of those areas “rely on our energy sector as an economic driver,” while also criticizing Fetterman’s past stance on fracking.

“Pennsylvania needs a strong leader who will stand up for American values ​​and not help make this country worse,” Yannick said.

During his failed 2016 run for the Senate, Fetterman expressed support For a moratorium on fracking in Pennsylvania “until we get an extraction tax and the strictest environmental regulations in this country.” He does not currently support a fracking ban and has taken a more nuanced approach to transitioning to clean energy.

A boost from Mastriano

Oz may get some help unifying the Republican base from GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, a far-right state senator who upset more establishment candidates in the primary. Mastriano has been a leading voice pushing Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, and mainstream Republicans have expressed doubts about his ability to win the general election.
Polls consistently show Mastriano trailing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, including a recent CBS News/YouGov survey that gave Shapiro a double-digit lead.

But people like Gary Smith, chair of the Constitutional Republicans of Western Pennsylvania, believe that Mastriano’s supporters are so loyal to him, they will undoubtedly vote in November and probably hold their noses for Oz while they’re at it.

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“Mastriano is so strong that he’s going to pull Oz by his coattails,” said Smith, whose group is made up of the most conservative voters around Jefferson County, which Trump won in 2020 with 79% of the vote.

Many in Smith’s group supported Burnett in the primary — and Jefferson was one of several counties he won in May. But Oz visited the area after his primary win, and Smith said the GOP nominee met with the group and “allayed some of the concerns” and “gave us some reassurances about pro-life, Second Amendment, things of that nature.”

Smith said that even if some in his party still have concerns about Oz, “they’re going to suck it up and put on their big girl and big boy pants” and vote for him in November.

“Our philosophy is that while Oz is liberal compared to us, he’s ultra-conservative compared to Fetterman,” Smith said. “So, I guess in some ways, politics is relative.”