US midterms: Pennsylvania Senate victory a boost to Democrats

John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz in the first Senate race of 2022 to flip a seat in the chamber.

John fetterman
John Fetterman waves to supporters after addressing an election night party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [Gene J Puskar/AP]

Democratic candidate John Fetterman has won the Senate race in Pennsylvania, a step forward for his party as it strives to retain control of the chamber in the 2022 midterm elections.

Fetterman, currently the state’s lieutenant governor, defeated the Donald Trump-backed Republican Mehmet Oz in one of the closest-watched races of the election cycle. He flipped a seat currently occupied by retiring Republican Pat Toomey.

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With the victory in Pennsylvania, Democrats only need to hold on to two of three Senate seats in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona, where counting is still under way.

Georgia may also be headed for a run-off, with Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker unlikely to break the 50 percent threshold for an outright win. Democratic incumbents were leading in all three races.

Fetterman credited his “every county, every vote” campaign strategy, in which the tattooed and hoodie-wearing candidate sought to bring the Democratic Party back to predominantly white working-class areas that have increasingly rejected it, even as he ran on a progressive platform.

“And that’s exactly what happened,” Fetterman, aged 53, told a cheering crowd early Wednesday at a concert venue in Pittsburgh.

“We jammed them up. We held the line. I never expected that we would turn these red counties blue, but we did what we needed to do and we had that conversation across every one of those counties.”

Fetterman suffered a stroke during the campaign season, and he saw his numbers slide in the polls amid concerns about his health, especially after a public debate where he was on the backfoot to Oz, a heart surgeon-turned-TV celebrity who would have been the first Muslim elected to the US Senate.

In brief remarks to an election night audience at a fitness centre in suburban Philadelphia, Oz thanked supporters and struck an optimistic tone.

“When all the ballots are counted, we believe we will win this race,” Oz told the crowd late on Tuesday. He had not conceded as of early Wednesday.

Oz, a political novice with no roots in Pennsylvania politics, struggled to connect with some Republican voters, including those who thought he was too close to former President Trump.

During the primary, some opponents cast Oz as an out-of-touch Hollywood liberal.

Polls had shown a close race with the economy and abortion rights weighing heavily on voters.

epa10266301 A handout photo made available by abc27 shows Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (L) and Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) shaking hands prior to the Nexstar Pennsylvania Senate Debate at WHTM abc27 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, 25 October 2022.
John Fetterman shakes hands with Republican candidate Dr Mehmet Oz during an October debate [EPA]

On the campaign trail, Fetterman characterised a vote for Oz as a vote to outlaw abortion. He ridiculed Oz’s comment during a debate, in which he said he wants “women, doctors, local political leaders” to decide the fate of abortion.

Reporting from Pittsburgh, Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo said Fetterman’s victory gave Democrats hope as they sought to keep control of the Senate, even as they are widely expected to lose control of the House of Representatives.

“This is the first flipped state in this election, this midterm, this Senate race. This is the first time tonight that either of the two parties has been able to flip [a Senate seat],” he said.

“Now with this race being called for John Fetterman, this puts the Democrats in the driver’s seat to potentially remain in control of the US Senate. It’s not there yet, but it’s a big step in that direction for Democrats.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies