If Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz held a dinner for his top 10 campaign contributors, he'd be sitting alone at a table for one.
Federal Election Commission data shows Oz loaned nearly 70% of his campaign’s $19 million raised in his race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, which analysts called a potential sign of trouble as he runs against Democrat John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor.
Oz’s campaign finance reports — showing a lack of small, one-time donors and limited support from outside committees — coupled with recent polls foreshadow a rocky path to victory for the celebrity doctor with less than 100 days before the Nov. 8 election that could tip the partisan balance of the U.S. Senate.
“In all of the metrics that I look at with how healthy you are based on your fundraising, he’s not doing great,” said Republican political strategist Sam Chen.
A founder of The Liddle Group in Allentown, Chen said Oz’s finance reports show
s signs “very indicative of trouble” with the election poised to heat up after Labor Day.
Fetterman currently holds the most money raised in this year’s Senate race in Pennsylvania, with $26 million through the end of June, putting him about $7 million ahead of Oz.
The finance reports cover funds raised over at least 15 months, going back even before either candidate first announced their bids in 2021. Oz's campaign did not respond to a message seeking comment.
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Fetterman’s campaign boasted a $10 million increase through the spring and early summer and the former Mayor of Braddock announced Friday that his campaign passed 1 million individual contributors, averaging about $30 per person in donations.
As of June, roughly 58%, or $15 million, of Fetterman’s total contributions came from individual contributions under $200. About 4% of Oz’s $19 million raised, or $792,571, came from one-time donors like those that have bolstered Fetterman’s campaign.
The FEC requires that any individual contributions exceeding $200, either in a single donation or throughout a campaign be itemized. Un-itemized contributions can typically reflect how much money a candidate is getting from small, one-time donations.
Oz’s campaign ranked third overall in among the 37 candidates in Pennsylvania who had previously thrown their hat in the ring for the Senate race, about $500,000 behind the fellow Republican he defeated in the May primary, David McCormick.
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Chen added that there are “a number of ways” to look at campaign finance reports, and one of the factors he considers is what the small contributions tell about that candidate’s base. Small donors don’t have a lot of money to give to political candidates.
“Somebody who goes online and gives you a $5 contribution, they’re in,” said Chen.
“The only caveat I have with someone like Oz is a large reason a lot of his supporters supported him was because of his ability to self-fund. So, there’s always a little bit of that pitch, ‘Well, I can self-fund,’ which cools off some of those donors from jumping in,” Chen added.
Small donors don’t automatically translate into votes either. Gaining a million individual donors to a campaign won’t mean much for Fetterman if they don’t show up to the polls in November.
But self-funding does not typically translate to victories. In the 2020 cycle, for example, just 25% of the 36 candidates for House, Senate and president who spent $1 million or more on their campaigns won, according to an analysis of the campaign finance group OpenSecrets. That percentage was 22% in 2016 and 2018, OpenSecrets found.
Oz trails in recent polls
Campaigns will be ramping up across the country in September as the midterms close in, which might give Oz little time to garner more support and funding from national committees.
National democratic strategist Julie Roginsky said the next month could be crucial to Oz's outside campaign donations as the National Republican Senatorial Committee will likely be making decisions on which races to support across the country.
"Within next month the (NRSC) is going to be making a decision on where to invest and there is a finite amount amount of money that any of these committees have. If Oz doesn’t seem that he’s in contention, they’re going to invest their money elsewhere," Roginsky said.
Oz eked out a primary victory just shy of 1,000 votes against McCormick, with several other primary challengers on the ballot.
Where Fetterman was able to secure a victory within an hour after the polls closed on May 17, the narrow margin between Oz and McCormick triggered an automatic recount that kept the cardiothoracic surgeon from becoming the clear winner for almost two weeks.
While the recount might have cost Oz at least $234,106 to fight, according to FEC data, it likely also cost him time to reunify his base.
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Even with Trump’s endorsement, Oz seemed to have trouble winning over the former president’s base due to past comments warning against letting state’s decide abortion rights and other left-of-center positions.
Montgomery County political commentator Kathy Barnette saw a meteoric rise in popularity and became a potential upset against Oz and McCormick as her America First platform won over the Make America Great Again crowd loyal to Trump.
Politico reported on July 29 that the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm was silently sounding alarm bells over Oz’s chances to win during a recent NRSC donor call. Part of that call appeared to focus on a path to GOP winning the Senate without an Oz victory in Pennsylvania.
The current Senate is split 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the potential tie-breaker. Twenty-one Republican seats are on the ballot this November to the Democrats' 14.
With "a lot of seats to defend," Roginsky said, Oz needs to show he's worth the investment before the national GOP sets its sights on victories elsewhere and "defeat becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
One of the focus areas for the national committee deciding which races to cover will be polling, where Roginsky said Oz is at a disadvantage this late in the summer.
Since the primary, polls have shown Oz losing ground with likely voters of any party affiliation. A USA Today Network/Suffolk University poll of 500 Pennsylvania voters conducted between June 10 and June 13, 2022, gave Fetterman a 9-point lead over Oz.
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A similar AARP poll taken around the same time also had Oz trailing Fetterman by about six points overall but by just three points among voters over 50.
A Fox News poll of 900 voters taken between July 22 and July 26 had Fetterman up by 11 points over Oz.
On a national context
The Senate race in Pennsylvania is one of several battleground states that have gained national attention this year.
There are 34 Senate races across the country that have raised over $1 billion so far, with the FEC reporting Democratic candidates raising $524 million to the $510 million Republicans have raised this election year.
That total is only about half of the campaign funds raised by Senate candidates in 2020, when about $2.12 billion was raised for 33 seats. About $1.2 billion of that 2020 total was for Democratic candidates.
Despite the stakes for political party control in this election, Oz seems to be underperforming in fundraising compared to other GOP candidates in other states.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent running against Republican Hershel Walker in Georgia, currently has raised more than any other Senate candidate in the country, with over $84.9 million in contributions.
Walker, who like Oz has the endorsement of Trump, ranks 13th in the nation with about $20.2 million raised.
Walker’s campaign has raised 10 times the amount in small contributions that Oz has gained, and the Georgia Republican has made no loans to his own campaign.
While Toomey’s 2016 re-election campaign came during a relatively low-funded national race, only about $674 million raised in that year’s race across the country, his bid to keep at least one Republican Senator representing the commonwealth still netted $31 million, the most raised by a single candidate that year.
There are two notable differences between the totals raised by Oz now and Toomey six years ago: Toomey was an incumbent, which typically comes with an advantage in any election, and his campaign fundraising period ranges from 2011 to 2016 whereas Oz’s campaign finances records are only 15 months old.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey raised $21.7 million in his 2018 re-election campaign, ranking 13th in the nation that year.
With only a few months to go before the election, Fetterman seems poised to not only outraise Oz but also raise more than either of the state’s current Senators have in their most recent re-elections.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Mehmet Oz his own top contributor in Senate race vs. John Fetterman