In 2022, Republicans have nominated well-known celebrities rather than established politicians in three different U.S. Senate races: Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance in Ohio, and football star Herschel Walker in Georgia. GOP strategists have been using a “these-aren’t-career-politicians” pitch to voters in all three races. But reporter Adam Gabbatt, in an article published by The Guardian on August 16, emphasizes that none of those Republicans have been performing well in recent polls.
“In Mehmet Oz, Herschel Walker and J.D. Vance, the Republican Party has three celebrities running for Senate in November,” Gabbatt explains. “The only problem? At the moment, each of them looks as though they might lose. Oz, a television stalwart better known as Dr. Oz to millions of Americans, is trailing his opponent in Pennsylvania by double digits. Vance, a bestselling author and conservative commentator, is behind in his race in Ohio, an increasingly red state that many expected Republicans to win. So far, the most notable point of his campaign was when Vance appeared to suggest women should stay in violent marriages.”
Gabbatt continues, “In Georgia, Walker, a former NFL running back, is running close against Raphael Warnock, the incumbent Democrat. But Walker’s campaign has been characterized by a series of gaffes, and this week, more seriously, his ex-wife recalled in a campaign ad how he once held a gun to her head. The three men’s travails spell out a problem in selecting outsider, celebrity candidates. Each brings name recognition, but in some cases, have been unexposed to the media’s glare.”
Some polls released in late July or early August showed Georgia’s Senate race to be close. Walker was trailing the Rev. Warnock by only 3 percent in polls from Insider Advantage, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Research Affiliates, although a SurveyUSA poll showed Warnock ahead by 9 percent.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, had an 11 percent lead over Oz in a Fox News poll released in late July. And in Ohio, the Democratic nominee, Rep. Tim Ryan, was ahead of Vance by 3 percent in a late July poll conducted by Impact Research, although SurveyMoney’s polling in early August showed Ryan ahead by 11 percent. Ryan also had an 11 percent lead in a Center Street PAC poll from early August.
“The Pennsylvania Senate race is looking particularly dire for Republicans,” Gabbatt observes. “According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, John Fetterman, the Democratic lieutenant governor, holds an 11 percent lead over Oz. Among Republicans in Pennsylvania, just 35 percent say they are ‘enthusiastic’ about Oz’s candidacy, according to a Fox News poll in July, and 45 percent of Republicans say they ‘have reservations’ about the physician. Oz’s struggles are significant enough that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is considering diverting money away from Oz’s campaign ‘to seats that we feel we can win,’ Politico reported in July — a dramatic move given the Senate seat was previously held by a Republican.”
The Republican senator Gabbatt is referring to is Pat Toomey. Although arch-conservative, Toomey infuriated MAGA Republicans when he voted “guilty” in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate in 2021 — and the two-term senator decided not to seek a third term in 2022.
If Fetterman defeats Oz in November, Democrats will be flipping a U.S. Senate seat that has been mostly in Republican hands for decades. Before Toomey, the seat was held by the late Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who got along well with Pennsylvania Democrats like former Pennsylvania Gov./ex-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. Near the end of his life, Specter became a Democrat, but he spent most of his years in the Senate as a Republican.
Presently, there is a 50/50 split in the U.S. Senate — 50 Democrats or allies of Democrats like independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and 50 Republicans — with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote. If Democrats are able to maintain all of the Senate seats they presently hold but flip the seats in Pennsylvania and Ohio, they would slightly increase their narrow majority but would still have to contend with the 60-vote requirement of the filibuster.