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Fetterman leads Oz in Pa. Senate race, while Shapiro and Mastriano are neck-and-neck for governor, poll says

The survey also indicated deep disapproval for President Joe Biden and concerns about the economy.

Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, left, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, right.
Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, left, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, right.Read moreStaff/Riccardo Savi, MCT

Pennsylvania voters said they are pessimistic about the economy and disapprove of President Joe Biden’s leadership, but still favor Democratic nominee John Fetterman in the state’s high-profile Senate race, according to a new poll.

Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, led GOP nominee Mehmet Oz by 9 percentage points — 46% to 37% — in the key race that could determine control of the Senate. Thirteen percent of respondents were undecided in the Suffolk University/USA Today survey released Wednesday.

The candidates for governor are neck-and-neck, according to the poll, with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro leading State Sen. Doug Mastriano by 4 percentage points, just within the margin of error. In that race, 13% of respondents said they were undecided.

“Even with Democratic Party registration dwindling in Pennsylvania, both Fetterman and Shapiro are adopting a more populist approach to midterm voters and winning independents,” Suffolk pollster David Paleologos said. “Voters say they are unhappy with the economy in Pennsylvania and President Biden’s job approval, yet these particular Democrats are threading the needle thus far.”

The poll is only a first glimpse at the matchups in November, and much could change in the next five months of campaigning, heavy spending, and hundreds of news cycles. The survey also indicated deep disapproval for Biden and concerns about the economy, likely the leading issues in a midterm election cycle shaping up to be brutal for Democrats.

Oz is ‘not likable right now’

After narrowly winning a GOP Senate primary that went to a recount, Oz is a nominee for whom the majority of Republicans did not vote, and who, according to the poll, is not very well-liked. Oz, who was hammered by millions of dollars worth of attack ads in the primary, is viewed favorably by 28% of voters, but unfavorably by 50%, according to the survey.

Almost one in four voters either had never heard of Oz or were undecided on how they view him, which means there’s some room to grow, but he’ll have to improve to have a chance, Paleologos said.

“You have to be likable to be electable,” he said. “That’s how the textbook works, and he’s not likable right now.”

» READ MORE: Fetterman says he’s not a typical politician. Is that enough in a brutal climate for Democrats?

Oz’s biggest endorsement, former President Donald Trump, could cut both ways. The poll found only 22% of respondents said a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to support a candidates, while 47% said it would make them less likely.

Fetterman, who trounced his rivals in the Democratic primary but remains sidelined from the campaign trail while he recovers from a stroke, had a favorability rating of 45% and an unfavorable rating of 27%.

And Fetterman’s focus on campaigning in more rural parts of the state appears to be paying off. He’s only trailing Oz by by 6 percentage points in Republican-friendly central Pennsylvania, according to the poll, and he’s ahead in the northwest part of the state, which includes bellwether Erie County.

Fetterman also enjoyed support from 10% of Republican respondents in the survey, while Oz got 6% of Democratic respondents.

Shapiro narrowly leads Mastriano

Perhaps the most surprising result of the early poll is how close the governor’s race appears to be, given that Shapiro signaled he wanted to run against Mastriano and Republicans mounted a last-minute bid to stop the far-right election denier, fearing he couldn’t win a general election.

During the primary, Shapiro’s campaign ran ads that could have boosted him with GOP voters, introducing him to voters as an ultra-conservative.

“He wants to end vote by mail and he led the fight to audit the 2020 election,” an ad said. “If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.”

» READ MORE: A look at Doug Mastriano’s ties to Jan. 6 and his efforts to throw out Pa.’s 2020 election

The ad buy suggested Shapiro hoped to face Mastriano in the general election, and many Democrats have speculated that such a match-up is their best chance at holding the governor’s mansion.

But with a lead of just 4 percentage points and a margin of error of just over plus or minus four points, Mastriano and Shapiro are essentially tied in the first poll of the race.

The governor’s race could have huge implications for abortion rights, voting rights, and myriad other issues. Republicans currently control the state legislature, and Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen has been a consistent line of defense for Democrats. The man who succeeds him will be able to sign or block conservative legislation if Republicans hold the statehouse.

Plenty of voters are still making up their minds. About a quarter of independent voters polled said they were still undecided in the governor’s race. Of those who leaned toward a candidate, Shapiro was beating Mastriano by about 5 percentage points.

Voters disapprove of Biden

Biden, who came to Philadelphia on Tuesday to try and put a positive spin on increasing economic concerns, remains unpopular in his one-time home state, with a 39% to 54% approval to disapproval rating.

Half of voters said they wanted their vote in November to change the direction in which Biden is leading the country. A quarter said they wanted their vote to support Biden’s agenda, and another quarter said their vote had nothing to do with Biden’s policies.

For Democrats, running ahead of those headwinds will be key. Fetterman is already pitching himself as someone outside the Democratic establishment, while embracing most Democratic positions. Shapiro, who ran unopposed in the primary and has a more traditional political profile, could have a tougher time distinguishing himself from the party.

Pessimism over the economy is high

Gas and grocery price hikes, inflation, rising interest rates — none of it’s gone unnoticed by voters.

Almost half of all voters polled described the state of the economy as “poor,” a quadrupling since 2018, when 12% of Pennsylvania voters said they felt that way. Those who said economic conditions are “good” dropped from 35% in 2018 to 15%.

The economy was by far the most important issues to respondents (26%), followed by gun control (16%), and abortion (10%).

» READ MORE: ‘Inflation is sapping the strength’ of American families, Biden tells labor leaders in Philly

Voters said they aren’t just pessimistic about the country’s economic outlook‚ they’re also frustrated with their situations at home. Almost half (48%) said their standard of living is worse than it was four years ago, while 17% said it was better. In the same question four years ago, 31% of voters said their standard of living was better, and 17% said worse.

If the economy and inflation remain top issues for voters, that could be good news for Oz. He led Fetterman among voters in the poll who ranked those issues first by more than 20 points.

The survey of 500 likely Pennsylvania voters was conducted June 10-13 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points