Republican Mehmet Oz’s campaign has posted a billboard in Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman‘s backyard attacking the Democrat for being soft on crime, which has emerged as a top issue in their battle for a Senate seat.
Mr. Oz and fellow Republicans running in marquee races across the country have turned to the issue of crime in the homestretch of the midterms as a way to energize supporters and woo undecideds flustered and frightened about public safety and other quality of life issues.
There are signs the attacks are working.
In Pennsylvania, polls show Mr. Oz has been making up ground on Mr. Fetterman since the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, started airing ads in mid-August focusing on the Democrat’s “far-left” record on crime.
Describing him as “dangerously liberal on crime,” the GOP attack ads targeted the leniency Mr. Fetterman showed criminals as chair of the state Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and the support he voiced in the past for “sanctuary cities” that refuse to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Over that time, Mr. Fetterman‘s 9-point lead has been sliced in half.
The billboard the Oz campaign put up Wednesday in Braddock, a borough in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh where Mr. Fetterman served as mayor from 2006 to 2019, features images of toilet paper and a toddler with a cat with arrows pointing to them saying “soft on bottoms” and “soft on skin.”
Alongside them is a photograph of Mr. Fetterman wearing his standard black hoodie and flashing a deranged smile with the caption “SOFT ON CRIME.”
“Let’s be clear — some things should be soft, but Pennsylvania’s next senator should not be soft on crime,” said Brittany Yanick, communications director for Mr. Oz‘s campaign.
The Oz campaign and its allies also have been warning that Mr. Fetterman wants to decriminalize all drugs and highlighting how he advocated for the commutation of prison sentences, including those convicted of second-degree murder.
Mr. Fetterman dismissed the attacks as desperate GOP fear-mongering.
Still, the criticism has put him on the defensive.
Mr. Fetterman has said he supports giving rehabilitated prisoners a second chance and eliminating mandatory life sentences without parole for those who commit felony murder. He also touts the role he played fighting crime as mayor of Braddock as a badge of honor.
And this week, the Fetterman camp released an ad in which Sean Kilkenny, the Montgomery County sheriff, pushes back against the soft-on-crime jabs.
“I’m sick of Oz talking about John Fetterman and crime. Here’s the truth. John gave a second chance to those who deserved it,” Mr. Kilkenny says. “Nonviolent offenders, marijuana users. He voted with law enforcement experts nearly 90% of the time. He reunited families and protected our freedom, and he saved taxpayer money.”
“John Fetterman has the courage to do what is right,” he said. “Dr. Oz doesn’t know a thing about crime.”
Mr. Fetterman has been the front-runner in the race for months despite questions about his health after he had a stroke days before the Democratic primary in May. He has so far withstood the headwinds from President Biden’s lagging approval rating, which is often an indicator of how people will vote in midterm elections.
Mr. Fetterman‘s success has been fueled by unrelenting attempts to cast Mr. Oz as a carpetbagger and convince voters that the former, deep-pocketed, phony diet pill-hawking, talk show host has no clue about the day-to-day challenges facing working-class people.
Plus, he has warned voters Mr. Oz is a “radical anti-abortion” candidate in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that granted the constitutional right to abortion.
The attacks have tarnished Mr. Oz‘s image, and the Republican has struggled to get Republicans excited about his bid.
A recent Marist Poll showed among voters who “definitely plan to vote” 36% said they have a favorable impression of him and 53% said they have an unfavorable impression of him.
Mr. Fetterman had a favorable impression among 48% of those voters versus 43% who see him in an unfavorable light.