Pennsylvania Senate Odds: Fetterman Cruising, Dr. Oz Flatlining

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on September 26, 2022
pa senate odds

With only six weeks left till the midterm elections, the battle for the Senate is heating up, and especially so, the battle for the GOP’s most vulnerable seat in Pennsylvania. Between TV doctor turned politician Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democratic Luientenant Governor John Fetterman, this battle of big names has gotten nasty. However, PA Senate odds show a potential landslide.

Fortunately for us, we can bet on it with PredictIt – and the value is still very apparent.

PA Senate Odds: Party To Win

PartyPredictIt PriceImplied Odds
Democrat$0.63 -170
Republican$0.38 +163

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Pennsylvania Senate Candidates

John Fetterman (D)

Let’s start with Fetterman, whose appeal to Pennsylvania makes some sense, even if there are parts of the story that aren’t the best for Democrats.

He was the Mayor of a tiny town in western Pennsylvania, he won a contested primary for LG on the backs of vote splitting amongst candidates from eastern Pennsylvania, and then he got famous going on MSNBC during Election Week 2020 explaining to out of staters where the votes were still to be counted (and why Democrats would win).

He’s a massive stylistic difference from the average Democrat – especially given his contempt for collared shirts or pants, and his general speaking style – but he’s a mainstream Democrat in his views. For whatever the GOP say, “tax the rich and spend more on those who need it” isn’t a fringe view amongst Democratic voters or Senators.

Democrats’ biggest problem is the fact that the weekend before the Democratic primary, he had a stroke, and has been recovering ever since, with middling results. He’s been like most stroke survivors – he has good days and he has bad days in terms of his oratory skills, which has led to some, including Oz, attacking him as unfit to serve.

Dr. Oz (R)

We will put aside the insanity of a Doctor – of which Oz is, even if most people know him for shilling bad diets and scam supplements – blaming his opponent for their own stroke, and just focus on what Oz’s campaign actually has going for it.

The GOP couldn’t get any of their Congresspeople to run for the seat, so they were going to run Sean Parnell, who almost won a Congressional seat in 2020, before he had to drop out because of domestic abuse allegations.

Then Oz came in, and barely won the primary over a Connecticut hedge fund billionaire who supported gay marriage and served as a sub-Cabinet member to George Bush, and Oz could only beat that wet suit by just under 1000 votes.

Oz isn’t from Pennsylvania and has ties to the state that are flimsy, and has been knocked off message for months with a message that he’s out of touch and doesn’t actually understand the state he’s running to represent.

And now, his best message is that a stroke survivor isn’t fit to serve, and that Fetterman is to blame for his stroke – a horrifically bad message at the best of times and especially bad when you’re a Doctor.

PA Senate Campaigns

The problem for Oz is simple – he has all the downsides of running an established politician without any of the upsides of it. And the PA Senate odds reflect that.

When you run a neophyte political candidate, you have a clear trade off – you’re trading political judgement for the lack of a voting record and lack of bad statements in the past. It’s a tradeoff that can work – as Democrats showed when they flipped the Senate while only running 1 candidate who had previously held public office in 2020.

The problem is, that strategy worked when nobody knows your candidate and therefore you can use a lot of money to make an early, lasting impression of your candidate. Glenn Youngkin spent early in 2021 to define himself as a “new” Republican – not Trump, and not anti-Trump – and it worked.

The problem is, there’s nobody in Pennsylvania who doesn’t already have strong feelings on Dr. Oz, because everyone knows who he is because of his years of his own TV show, his friendship with Oprah, and the various ways he’s been interviewed as some uniquely American form of public intellectual.

He has all the downsides of a long time politician, in that people know who he is, without the benefits of it, which is to say that he isn’t running a good campaign at all.

Fetterman has been running this campaign and been dictating its rhythms and strategy the whole time. It’s been Fetterman’s constant yammering on about Oz’s ties to New Jersey that made that an issue, and it’s been a campaign dominated by a lens that works for Democrats – hardworking average Pennsylvanians versus elites.

Do Polls Reflect PA Senate Odds?

Fetterman had a massive lead months ago, mostly because a lot of Republicans were undecided because they were against Oz because of the divisive nature of the GOP primary.

What’s happened since then is that Oz has managed to claw back his Republican support while making no real dent into Fetterman’s strength with Biden voters in the suburbs or with Obama 2012-Trump 2020 voters in the middle and north east of the state.

Fetterman is winning by massive amounts in polls of the state that aren’t the highest quality and winning by 5% in the best poll of the state, a recent CBS/YouGov poll that is employing many tools to correct the 2020 polling miss.

Hell, not that they should be used as indicative of anything, but even Trafalgar – a notoriously right wing polling firm with questionable methods and a history of election denialism and a methodology that seems at times to amount to “create more Republicans” – has Fetterman winning.

Could the polls be wrong, and Fetterman still loses? Sure, but Fetterman is up by nearly 8% on average right now and in 2020 the polls were only off by 3.5% in the state, so that’s not going to save Oz. The GOP would need a massive resurrection of their chances in the polls and a 2020 style polling miss – which is unlikely, because at least some of the polls are correcting for 2020’s miss, reducing the likely aggregate miss.

The Oz campaign needs a miracle, but we’ve been waiting for one for months now and it hasn’t come, and at some point waiting for an Oz surge starts to conjure Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The polls in Pennsylvania have been good in midterm years, only missing in the 2014 Governors race by 1.2% and actually underestimating Democratic margins in 2018’s Senate race by 1.4%, so the fear of a huge polling miss isn’t justified here like it is elsewhere.

Fetterman will likely underrun Biden a bit in the suburban collar of Philadelphia, sure, but that movement will be much smaller than Democratic overperformance in the rurals, for a simple reason. The group of “voted in 2020, didn’t in 2018 voters” in all of those rural counties are more Republican than those counties as a whole, meaning that those counties will get slightly bluer even before you factor in Fetterman’s appeal to Obama-Trump voters.

The case for Oz winning is real, but highly unlikely – it’s a rally in the polls, and then a 2020 or bigger polling miss. Is it possible? Sure. Is it more than a fairly slim chance? No, and everything we know about polling misses says it’s unlikely.

Pollsters who can’t ever fix their problems lose their contracts, and they won’t want to have the same error again. We aren’t seeing the same rash of Democratic friendly pollsters this year, and the media pollsters have every incentive to make R-leaning sampling and weighting decisions – as CBS/YouGov did, and still found Fetterman +5.

Democrats are heavy favorites to win this seat. Bet PA Senate odds accordingly.

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Evan Scrimshaw

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