“Oz was Trump’s candidate, he’s not our candidate,” said Ned Frear, a voter in Bedford County, which the former President won with about 83% of the vote in 2020.
Frear is a member of a group of retired veterans who meet at the same Route 220 diner to drink coffee and talk politics each week. Oz stopped at the diner back in February — and narrowly won the country in the May primary. Still, Frear and others are largely unmotivated by the GOP nominee.
“People in Bedford County are probably going to hold their noses and vote for him,” Frear said, “because Fetterman is a dead loss as a candidate.”
Clay Buckingham, another retired veteran, agreed: “That’s my feeling about Oz. I’m sorry that I’m going to have to vote for him, but I’d rather see him as senator than see Fetterman.”
“I voted for Kathy Barnette in the primary,” added Doug Braendel, another member of the veteran group. “She was my favorite candidate, but so be it. This the candidate, so I’ve got to go with him.”
A vote against Fetterman
For many of these voters, the reason to vote for Oz is Fetterman, a candidate they view as antithetical to their conservative views.
Fetterman’s campaign believes his path to victory involves keeping Republican margins down in counties like Bedford, while running up his vote totals in urban and suburban areas.
Just 36% of likely Oz voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting for the Republican, while 64% of registered Republicans said they wished someone else had been nominated, according to the poll. In contrast, 63% of likely Fetterman voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about backing him, while 77% of registered Democrats said they were “glad he was nominated.”
In counties like Bedford and nearby Somerset, however, the polarization of the country is felt clearer than ever — it is the antipathy for Fetterman, and the fact he is a Democrat, that is driving out Republicans for Oz.
“Obviously, he’s our candidate of choice now, so we need to back him because red is better than blue,” said Terri Mitchell, a voter in Somerset County, which Oz lost to former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick in the Republican primary.
Guy Berkebile, the chair of the Somerset County Republican Party, acknowledged the same: “Some of them, it took a little time,” he said of Republicans who harbored apprehensions about Oz. “But they’re realizing that my best option is to be vote for Dr. Oz.”
Berkebile hosted Oz at his company, Guy Chemical, earlier this year. He said that there were plenty of local voters who had doubts about the television doctor at the time.
“We’re a very Christian-based, conservative county. They were somewhat hesitant on Dr. Oz at first. They weren’t sold on his Second Amendment stance, a lot of pro-lifers here, they weren’t sold on if he was pro-life or not,” Berkebile said, before adding, “Voting for Fetterman is not an option.”
Brittany Yanick, a spokeswoman for the Oz campaign, said the campaign was confident of holding the reddest counties in the state 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 help heal this country, not make it worse,” Yanick said.
A boost from Mastriano
But people like Gary Smith, the chair of the Constitutional Republicans of Western Pennsylvania, believe Mastriano’s supporters are so loyal to him, they will undoubtedly turn out to vote in November and, while there, will likely hold their noses and vote for Oz.
“Mastriano is so strong that he is going to pull Oz along on his coattails,” said Smith, whose group consists of some of the most conservative voters around Jefferson County, which Trump won with 79% of the vote in 2020.
Many in Smith’s group supported Barnette in the primary — and Jefferson was one of the few counties she won in May. But Oz visited the area after his primary win, and Smith said the GOP nominee met with the group and “cleared some concerns up” and “has given us some assurances on pro-life, Second Amendment, things of that nature.”
Smith said that even if some in his group still harbor concerns about Oz, “they are going to suck it up and put their big girl and big boy pants on” and vote for him in November.
“Our philosophy is that even if Oz was liberal compared to us, he is an ultra-conservative compared to Fetterman,” Smith said. “So, I guess in some ways, politics is relative.”