Pennsylvania’s closely watched Senate race is neck-and-neck with 2 weeks until election

We are two weeks away from a hugely consequential election that will determine the make-up of Congress and the direction of U.S. policymaking over the next two years. So far, more than a billion dollars have been spent on races for 35 Senate seats, and the most expensive of those is in Pennsylvania. Judy Woodruff visited the Keystone State and spoke with voters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today is exactly two weeks away from a hugely consequential election that will determine the makeup of Congress and the direction of much U.S. policymaking over the next two years.

    So far, more than a billion dollars have been spent on races for 35 Senate seats, and the most expensive of those is in Pennsylvania, where control of the now evenly split Senate could be determined.

    I visited the Keystone State this past weekend.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    From a chilly morning parade to college football on a sunny afternoon, to the Phillies clinching the National League pennant.

  • Drake Smith, Lincoln University:

    Make sure you — look, Election Day is Nov. 8, OK?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All while campaigns make their final pushes to get voters registered and keep them engaged.

  • Speaker:

    And it's right up here on this first block.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's a busy time of year in this swing state.

  • Drake Smith:

    You registered to vote on campus, right?

  • Speaker:

    Yes.

  • Drake Smith:

    Look, Election Day is Nov. 8, OK?

  • Speaker:

    OK.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sophomore Drake Smith is president of the student government at Lincoln, the country's first historically Black college and university, in a rural part of Chester County.

  • Drake Smith:

    We tell students that, like, there's power in your vote, because they're trying to take it away. They want to make it harder for you to vote because they know just how much power there is in your collective voting.

  • Speaker:

    We want to make sure everybody has a plan to get out for Election Day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the suburbs of Chester County, Kennett Area Democratic Chair Whitney Hoffman is trying to educate her neighbors on the issues and how much is on the line.

  • Whitney Hoffman, Kennett Area Democrats:

    Our job is to try and help them understand them and understand how important this is long term, because it's the future of our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The saying coined years ago by Democratic strategist James Carville that you could think of Pennsylvania politics as Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in between still largely holds true.

    But candidates in 2022 have to focus on the suburbs around Philadelphia, like here in Chester County. These counties used to vote reliably Republican, but with a growing population, now more than that of the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh combined, they have become more blue.

  • Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D-Pa.:

    This area, to me means, everything.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Democrat vying for the open Senate seat is Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who spent 13 years as mayor of Braddock, a former steel town outside of Pittsburgh hit hard by outsourcing, offshoring, and the crack cocaine and opioid epidemics.

    Dr. Mehmet Oz (R), Pennsylvania Senatorial Candidate: We need more balance and less extremism in Washington. I'm not a politician.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the GOP, it's newcomer to Pennsylvania and to politics Dr. Mehmet Oz.

  • Dr. Mehmet Oz:

    It's one of the most important discoveries we have made to help you burn fat faster.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The cardiac and thoracic surgeon turned daytime TV star.

    While Fetterman opened with a sizable lead, in recent weeks, Oz has managed to make it competitive.

  • Carol Schelling, Independent Voter:

    Fetterman, I have more — I lean more towards him this time.

  • Jeff Eisenhauer, Republican Voter:

    I'm still leaning towards Oz. I just think he's a more intelligent person.

    Stephen Medvic, Franklin & Marshall College: From pretty early on in the primaries, Fetterman got a lead because there were some questions about Dr. Oz and his candidacy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stephen Medvic directs the center for politics and public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

    He says, with Joe Biden in the White House and high inflation and gas prices, Republicans would naturally be favored in this off-year election. But it's taken time for them to consolidate around Dr. Oz.

  • Stephen Medvic:

    And it's now very, very close.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How has he been able to narrow that gap, do you think?

  • Stephen Medvic:

    It's, I think, a very consistent message about crime. Lieutenant Governor Fetterman serves as the chair of the Parole Board, as the chair of the Parole Board, and has been in favor of criminal justice reform. And I think they have used some of his comments and some of his decisions in the past to say that he's soft on crime.

  • Narrator:

    John Fetterman wants to release convicted murderers from prison.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Those ads have been airing around the clock, with money pouring in not only from Oz's campaign, where he has spent more than $20 million of his own money, but also from outsiders, like the Senate Leadership fund.

  • Narrator:

    Emptying our prisons means more hardened criminals on the streets, hurting our communities.

  • David Lantz, Farmer:

    You know, I watch the news, like everyone else does, and it seems like that's all you see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Crime.

  • David Lantz:

    Crime every night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On the outskirts of Chester County, David Lantz is a farmer who took a short break from harvesting soybeans to talk with us.

    A strong Trump supporter, Lantz didn't vote for Oz in the primary even with Trump's endorsement, but says he will on Nov. 8 because of the economy and the need to expand oil and gas drilling.

  • David Lantz:

    I'm a farmer, obviously, and diesel prices are sky high. I'd like to see that come down. I think the economy and inflation go hand in hand with energy prices.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that the main issue that's driving your vote?

  • David Lantz:

    Well, that and abortion. Abortion is very important to me. I'm very pro-life.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Lantz's neighbor is another David, Dave Vollmer, a retired Army colonel and part-time farmer.

    When did you make your change of party?

    Until 2018, Vollmer was a registered Republican, but thinks the party lost its way under Donald Trump. That year, he began registering as a Democrat to vote in the state's closed primary.

    Col. David Vollmer (RET.), U.S. Army: Dr. Oz is supported by Trump. So there's a strike against him in my book right off the bat.

    The other strike against him is, he's a carpetbagger. He moved here from — basically into his mother-in-law's house, so he could set up a residency and say, OK, now I'm running for Senate of Pennsylvania.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Vollmer says he wants to see abortion rights protected, more done on gun control, and that he fears Republican control of Congress.

  • Col. David Vollmer:

    They're going to dismantle the January 6 Committee. And we might not find out any more about that insurrection, which I feel was truly an insurrection. I was horrified. I was listening to it on the radio, thinking, how can this be happening in my country?

  • Speaker:

    Pennsylvania's next senator, John Fetterman!

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As for Fetterman, ever since he suffered a stroke in May, and stayed off the trail to recover, there have been questions about his health.

  • Stevie Van Zandt, Musician:

    Yo, Dr. Oz, Stevie V.Z. here. What are you doing in Pennsylvania?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He used that time recovering to target Oz with social media ads charging him with being a wealthy celebrity out of touch with Pennsylvanians.

  • Narrator:

    Twenty-nine days of unimaginable pain and suffering, until Oz took her for the last experiment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fetterman's campaign has also benefited from ad buys by outside Democratic groups attacking Oz.

  • Narrator:

    There is no greater risk to Pennsylvania women than Dr. Oz.

  • Lt. Gov. John Fetterman:

    The elephant in the room, you know, we had a stroke back in May.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In recent interviews and campaign stops, Fetterman has talked about his recovery head on, as he did on Sunday morning in South Philadelphia.

  • Lt. Gov. John Fetterman:

    And despite all that, I survived to be back. And that means I'm going to fight for you all because I'm back out on the trail.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    His doctor last week released a note clearing him for public service. But Fetterman continues to struggle with speaking and relies on audio transcription. His campaign declined our request for an interview.

    For the record, we also reached out multiple times to the Oz campaign asking for a schedule and an interview. No one responded.

  • Dr. Mehmet Oz:

    York, Pennsylvania, is halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia. There is a lot of crime here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oz has appeared on friendly outlets, like Last week's interview in York with FOX News' Sean Hannity, again painting Fetterman as soft on crime.

  • Dr. Mehmet Oz:

    For example, Philadelphia, which has the highest murder rate ever in our lifetime. You touched on it, but you try to walk through Philadelphia. Families don't let their kids go outside. Stores, chains are leaving.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was not the scene we saw in South Philly at the Fetterman rally Sunday morning, where we also met two targets of that crime narrative, Lee and Dennis Horton, who work for Fetterman's campaign.

    The brothers spent 27 years in prison for second-degree murder, yet always maintained their innocence. On the state Board of Pardons, Fetterman championed their cases, and, early last year, their life sentences were commuted by Governor Tom Wolf.

  • Lee Horton, Fetterman Campaign Staffer:

    And far as we're concerned, John stood with us when nobody would. He did the right thing. It was the right thing to help two innocent men come home. And if somebody is going to attack somebody on that, you just see what kind of character they have.

    Dennis "Freedom" Horton, Fetterman Campaign Staffer: If you go back and you look at his record on Braddock, PA, I mean, it's — clearly, he drove down the homicide rate when he was the mayor for five-and-a-half years. And he did that by working with the police officers and working with the community together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All of these issues take center state at tonight's one and only debate between the candidates.

  • Drake Smith:

    Remember to vote, guys. Remember to vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But with the voter registration deadline now passed, and mail-in voting already under way, Stephen Medvic at Franklin & Marshall says the cake may already be baked.

  • Stephen Medvic:

    You know, a debate that late might not change many minds, but, if something happens, it's close enough to the election that the effect that it might have will carry through to Election Day for maybe just enough voters to make the difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    High stakes, narrow margins, and time running short.

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