But interviews with a dozen voters at the rally, which also included gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and congressional hopeful Jim Bognet, revealed a complicated picture: Oz is making headway with the GOP base, and many Republicans have pledged to vote for him even if they hold their noses. However, he still struggles with an enthusiasm gap – and even far-right misinformation is spreading about him.
“I’m 50-50 on him, personally,” said Dylan Smith, a student at Bloomsburg University in northeast Pennsylvania, saying Oz wasn’t conservative enough on transgender issues and had distanced himself from Trump in the general election. “He removed Trump’s endorsement from his site. … So I’m uncertain with him.
When asked if he would ultimately vote for Oz over Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman in November, he said he would, albeit half-heartedly.
Oz has struggled to unite the GOP base since winning the primary — which ended in a recount — by less than 1,000 votes after a brutal and costly negative ad campaign that attacked him as a “Republican in name only”. In a recent poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research, Oz was backed by likely Republican voters 78% to 13%, against Fetterman, who was backed by Democrats 87% to 9%.
Some GOP voters at the rally were eager to vote for Oz despite not supporting him in the primary. And at times, audience members stood to applaud Oz as he spoke.
“Oz wasn’t my first choice, but I’m definitely a supporter,” said Lucerne County solar installation company owner Tony DelDonna, who said he voted for David McCormick in the nominating contest. of the GOP. “I’m all behind Oz because Fetterman is evil.”
Dave Resavage, a landscaper also from Luzerne County, said he’s “100%” sure he and his family members will vote for Oz in November, though they’re more excited about Mastriano, the face of the movement in Pennsylvania to overturn the 2020 election.
“At first we were lukewarm to Dr. Oz, but he’s definitely better than Fetterman’s choice,” he said. “He may not be our first choice, but that’s life like that.”
Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, said in a recent interview that GOP voters are warming up to Oz: “The base is coming to him because he’s our candidate.”
It’s clear that some Republicans still don’t trust Oz. On at least two occasions, members of the public referred to him as “RINO”, causing one person in the stands to be pushed back who asked if they wanted Fetterman instead.
A rally attendee said there were “rumors” about Oz in the crowd, citing a baseless conspiracy theory that seemed linked to QAnon.
Both Oz and Mastriano used Trump’s rally to throw red meat at the grassroots, though the Senate candidate seemed more focused on a general election message that was also aimed at swing voters.
Oz talked about the American dream, safe streets, and going around the country, which he says is going in the wrong direction. “I am the person of change,” he said.
Mastriano, on the other hand, spoke almost entirely about issues that drive Republicans, such as voter identification, “sanctuary state” policies, and “critical race theory.”
Yet a number of their talking points overlapped, including lamenting border issues, criticizing Covid restrictions and attacking the inclusion of transgender students in sport.
“I know without a doubt in my mind that we can have a secure border and allow legal immigration of people who work hard here and serve this great nation,” Oz said at the rally, while pointing out that his parents immigrated. legally in the country.
Mastriano said he would escort any immigrant buses arriving in Pennsylvania to “Joe Biden’s house in Delaware.”
Oz said science had been “armed” with Covid-era shutdowns and blasted the Green New Deal. Mastriano also focused on energy, promising that “on day one we will…drill and dig like there’s no tomorrow.”
Trump has criticized Shapiro and Fetterman at length, arguing that they are soft on crime and that Mastriano, as governor, could limit violence in Philadelphia with the help of Oz.
“Doug, you have to deal with this,” Trump said. “And Oz will send you the goods. Oz, send him the goods. You know what goods are? Lots of police. »
Trump called Oz “an incredibly successful man in television and medicine” and said Mastriano “supported me from the start.”
Ahead of Saturday’s rally, Republican strategists said they hoped the event would help Oz solidify his standing with the grassroots. Even Democratic consultants said it would likely benefit him.
“In a way, it’s a necessity for Oz because of the summer setbacks. He came out of the primary with a fractured field and was pretty unpopular with the Trump base,” said JJ Balaban, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist “It’s just hard to see how he can win without an enthusiastic, united and motivated Republican base.”
At the same time, Balaban said, campaigning with Trump “will do him no favors with swing voters.”