Pa. Senate race between Fetterman and Oz could break ad spend records

By Julian Routh, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — Insiders expect the U.S. Senate race between Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman to be one of the most expensive of all time in Pennsylvania — possibly even surpassing expenses in 2016 when Republican Pat Toomey defended his seat – and the main battleground could be the airwaves.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette survey of various political advertisers found that Democratic and Republican powerhouses have already booked at least $67 million in advertising spots for the November election, with most bookings starting in the fall. Oz and Fetterman search for the Senate seat that Toomey is retiring from.

Some of the spots are starting to spread about battleground state trade breaks as both sides see Pennsylvania as one of the central arenas for Senate scrutiny at a time when abortion rights are on the rise. attacked, the economy continues its free fall and President Joe Biden suffers from a historically low approval rating.

Those who’ve seen the ads already got a glimpse of what political pundits are announcing in early August: an all-out blitz that may have no historical precedent.

Fetterman, the Democratic candidate and lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, has been on the air with ads calling his candidacy a backlash against politics as usual in Washington. Oz’s Republican allies have battled in recent weeks, branding his opponent an extremist beholden to Biden’s worst impulses.

Terry Madonna, senior fellow for political affairs at the University of Millersville and a top political analyst in Pennsylvania, said publicity in the Oz-Fetterman race could fuel a spending spree that rivals the Toomey- Katie McGinty in 2016, which reached $164 million. .

“It’s hard to say if it eventually hits $165 million, but I don’t think you can rule that out at this point,” Madonna said. “This could be the most expensive election in our state’s history.”

On the air, there are now a few spots, including ads that could be central to Fetterman’s campaign. His team ran a Fox News spot in the Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Scranton media markets that portrayed him as a political trailblazer who will use his lived experiences — as a former mayor of Braddock, for his part — to fight for higher wages and good jobs. for the forgotten towns of the state.

The Republican National Senate Committee is running a pair of ads that tie Fetterman to Biden and say left-wing radicals side with his candidacy. One quotes Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, calling Fetterman an “outstanding progressive.”

“You’re out of gas. Biden is out of time. Fetterman is out of the question,” insists one of the spots.

An NRSC aide says the group, which so far has earmarked $8 million in ad spots through November, will invest heavily in Pennsylvania to convince voters that Fetterman would endorse the Democratic agenda in Washington and bind him inflation and record gasoline prices. These expenses will increase in the coming months, the assistant said.

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, meanwhile, is setting aside publicity time as part of a coordinated campaign to win both the Senate race and the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race between Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democrat , and Republican State Senator Doug Mastriano. An aide said ad booking so far has been around $3 million, starting in September.

Madonna said he expects Democratic groups to rely on Fetterman’s unique personality and authenticity. In another ad, Fetterman currently runs in Pittsburgh and Scranton, the 52-year-old remarks that he doesn’t look like a typical politician, recounts his upbringing and says he helped rebuild Braddock and reform the office of the lieutenant governor.

Fetterman, according to Madonna, could also be trying to take a page out of former hedge fund CEO David McCormick’s playbook in the GOP primary, when the Republican called Oz a flip-flopper and an upholsterer because he a residence in New Jersey.

If the GOP primary serves as a lesson in what the general election might hold, voters would have to attach themselves to attack ads for months, overwhelming nearly every commercial break. According to an analysis by ad tracker AdImpact, Republican advertisers spent $64.12 million on primary election advertising. The biggest spender was a pro-McCormick group, Honor Pennsylvania, which spent $19.12 million.

A pro-Oz group, American Leadership Action, spent $3.64 million on ads, and the Oz campaign itself dropped $15.03 million, according to AdImpact — which noted that between two parties, spending in the primary was nearly six times the total for the 2018 Senate primary and general election combined. In this election, Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, successfully defended his seat against Republican Lou Barletta.

Now the big guns are ready to get more involved.

As part of an initial five-state spending spree, the Senate Majority PAC, backing the Democratic candidates, earmarked $26 million for fall ad spots in Pennsylvania, with most ads starting in August, an aide says. . And the group recently announced an additional $5.9 million in advertising spending here as part of a summer advertising blitz in the battleground states.

JB Poersch, Senate Majority Chairman PAC, told the Post-Gazette in a written statement that Oz is “deeply out of touch with the people of Pennsylvania” and that the PAC intends to remind voters of that.

“We fully intend to remind voters of the truth: Oz is a selfish millionaire and fake Hollywood man who doesn’t trust women to make their own health decisions and has repeatedly sold workers for his own profit,” Poersch said.

The Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund has set aside $24.6 million in ads in Pennsylvania, starting Sept. 13 and running through Election Day, Nov. 8, group officials said. It’s part of a $141 million nationwide ad campaign to try to wrest back the Senate majority from Republicans.

In an interview with Politico, Steven Law, chairman of the Senate Leadership Fund, said he expects many GOP candidates to be overwhelmed this fall — which will require his PAC to step in to ” trying to level the playing field”.

So far, the playground is almost entirely digital, with ads appearing on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, among other platforms. These ads are much cheaper than placing spots in the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton media markets.

On Facebook, it seems that Fetterman consumes most of the space. Andrew Arenge, operations director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Opinion Research and Election Studies Program, tweeted last week that Fetterman spends money on Facebook ads daily, while the Oz camp has not done so since before the primary elections.

“Our campaign will continue to compete aggressively across all platforms, both digital and television, to meet voters where they are across the Commonwealth,” Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello said. .

Fetterman began running more than half a dozen ads on Facebook on Friday, including fundraising pitches, a personal story about the tattoos on his arms, and a pitch that calls Oz someone. who “has poured millions of his Hollywood money into his campaign to keep that Senate seat red.

The Oz campaign will argue that the choice couldn’t be clearer between the candidates, and that the famous doctor and TV personality will fight for safer streets, lower taxes and against radical policies.

Madonna said he expects Oz to focus his message on how the economy under Biden and the Democrats is failing the average person, and lashing out at Fetterman for “what he will call “radical left-wing positions”.

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