The Senate playing field has narrowed in recent weeks, with both parties heavily focused on Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania as the three races are most likely to decide which party has a majority in January 2023.
It is a difficult task to choose the breed that is the most critical of these three. But for my money, it’s in Pennsylvania where Lt. gov. John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz will compete for the seat vacated by retired GOP Senator Pat Toomey.
Why do I see Pennsylvania first among equals? A few reasons:
1) Pennsylvania could well be the biggest battleground of the 2024 presidential race – especially if Joe Biden and Donald Trump run again.
2) Oz is a contestant straight out of Trumpworld’s core casting. A longtime TV doctor and celebrity, he won the primary thanks to an endorsement from the former president. The question now is whether Oz’s style of conservatism will sell in the general election.
3) Fetterman is an uncompromising liberal. Instead of securing these positions or hiding them in a general election, he leaned on them. It’s a blueprint that liberals have long claimed can succeed, even in a swing state like Pennsylvania. Fetterman’s candidacy is a test case for this theory.
4) Both national parties are heavily invested in this race – testing messages for the inevitable struggle to come in 2024.
What’s clear about the race is that Fetterman was leading by mid- to high-single digits for most of the spring and summer when Oz was beaten in a primary he narrowly won — and was fighting to unite Republicans, himself after becoming the candidate.
But lately — thanks to a coordinated attack on Fetterman’s crime record and lingering questions about his health following a stroke he suffered earlier this spring — Oz has been sneaking back.
The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, a nonpartisan campaign tip, changed its rating of the race to “lean Democrats” about six weeks ago. But on Tuesday the rating switched back to “toss up”.
Senate Editor Jessica Taylor explained:
“In discussions with several GOP strategists and lawmakers — who began putting the Keystone State in the loss column a month and a half ago — this has emerged as a margin of error race that they believe is once again winnable. Republicans and Democrats alike admit the race has intensified and that Pennsylvania could be the tipping point for the Senate majority.”
So with exactly five weeks left in this campaign, we have a tie (or something like that) in a critical swing state between two candidates who hold drastically different visions of what the country’s future should be.
That seems pretty important to me.
The point: The fight for Senate control now seems very likely to be limited to a handful of races, which are currently rocky. And none is more important than Pennsylvania.