Larry Mitko backed Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The Republican from Beaver County in western Pennsylvania, meanwhile, declares that he has "no way, no how" plans to support Dr. Mehmet Oz, his party's candidate for the Senate.
Mitko doesn't really feel like he knows the well-known cardiothoracic surgeon who, with Trump's support, barely won his primary in May. Instead, Mitko intends to support Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a name he is familiar with from when Fetterman served as mayor of the nearby town of Braddock. Fetterman is Oz's Democratic opponent.
He declared, "Dr. Oz hasn't shown me a thing to make me vote for him." "I won't cast my vote for an unknown candidate."
As the former president prepares to hold his first rally of the general election season in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Mitko's analysis highlights the political difficulties facing Trump and the rest of the Republican Party.
While several Republican primaries this summer were won by Trump's preferred candidates, many of them were untested and divisive personalities who are now having difficulty in their November contests. That puts Senate control, which was previously thought to be a cinch for Republicans, in jeopardy.
Among them are Oz in Pennsylvania, JD Vance, an author, Blake Masters, a venture investor, and Herschel Walker, a former football player, in Arizona.
Veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres observed that "Republicans have now selected a lot of candidates who have never run for office before for extremely high-profile Senate races." He remarked, "It's a much more challenging task than a candidate who had won multiple difficult political races before," despite not completely ruling out his party's chances just yet.
The stakes are especially high for Trump as he prepares to run for president in 2024 amid a number of intensifying legal battles, such as the FBI's recent seizure of sensitive materials from his Florida property. Additionally, investigators are still looking into his attempts to rig the 2020 election.
President Joe Biden said that Trump and other "MAGA" Republicans — an acronym for Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan — constituted a threat to American democracy during a speech this week in Philadelphia during prime time. Like he did with the 2020 election, Biden has attempted to characterize the impending vote as a struggle for the "spirit of the nation."
In spite of rising inflation, high gas prices, and Vice President Biden's declining popularity, Republicans were once thought to have a good chance of taking over both chambers of Congress in November. However, since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights, Republicans have found themselves on the defensive.
Some candidates, like the GOP's hard-line contender for governor of Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, are adhering to their primary campaign strategies in the hopes of winning by mobilizing Trump's supporters even if they alienate more moderate voters.
Mastriano was a key player in Trump's attempt to rig the 2020 election and was spotted outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, as pro-Trump rioters stormed the structure. Mastriano wants to outlaw abortion regardless of whether a pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or endangers the mother's life.
However, some people have been making an effort to appeal to a wider audience by removing from their websites references to anti-abortion propaganda that is not in line with the political establishment. For instance, Masters took down statements on his website that described him as "100% pro-life" and that said President Trump would be in the Oval Office right now if the election had been conducted fairly. Others have downplayed Trump's support.
that formerly took center stage.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is the minority leader in the Senate, decreased hopes that Republicans will regain control of the Senate in November by citing "candidate quality" in response to the changing political environment.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee's chairman, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, claimed that people who criticize the party's nominees have "contempt" for the voters who made their selections.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Examiner, he argued that the action was "an incredible display of cowardice" and ultimately "treasonous to the conservative cause."
Trump also responded, branding McConnell a "disgrace" and defending the party's slate of candidates.
In a radio broadcast, he observed, "There are some extremely decent people." It takes a lot of courage to run, and those who do it spend their money and risk their reputations.
Democrats have piled on as well.
The communications director for the Senate Democratic campaign committee, David Bergstein, stated that Senate campaigns are "candidate versus candidate battles" and that the Republicans have put up a list of candidates with serious flaws. He gave Trump credit for discouraging seasoned Republicans from running, boosting dubious candidates, and pressuring them to adopt policies that are at odds with the majority of voters.
He claimed that "all those things have contributed to the weakness of the slate of Republican candidates they have left." Requests for reaction from a Trump spokeswoman went unanswered.
Republicans in Pennsylvania are hoping that worries about Fetterman, who had a stroke just days before the primary and has been out of commission for most of the summer, would overshadow Oz's flaws as a candidate. He continues to maintain a minimal public schedule and recently appeared to have difficulty speaking.
Republicans are aware of Oz's difficulties in projecting a honest persona and were frustrated with his lack of retaliation when Fetterman spent the summer mocking him online and painting him as an out-of-touch carpetbagger from New Jersey.
Republicans claim they expect the funding gap to close and are happy to see Oz within striking distance after being hammered by $20 million in negative advertising during the primaries, despite the fact that Fetterman, whom they disparage as "Bernie Sanders in gym shorts," leads Oz in polls and fundraising.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super political action committee allied with McConnell, claims it increased its TV buy by $9.5 million, bringing its total commitment to $34.1 million by election day. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is contributing to the cost of a fresh round of Oz's television advertisements.
According to Andy Reilly, a member of the Pennsylvania Republican National Committee, "regardless of what folks may have heard in the primary, they're going to realize that Oz is the greatest choice for Pennsylvania."
A Chuck Schumer-affiliated super PAC claims to have reserved $32 million in television advertising space in the state.
Some formerly suspicious voters, like Glen Rubendall, who didn't support Oz in his seven-way primary — a victory so close it required a statewide recount — have changed their minds.
After seeing him speak, retired state prisons officer Rubendall declared, "I now support Oz."
Despite ads that ran during the primary showcasing former Oz statements that seemed to promote abortion rights, Traci Martin, a registered independent, also intends to support Oz because she opposes abortion.
Martin responded, "I hope he's (against abortion), but the terrible thing is we live in a time where politicians say one thing and do another.