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Mehmet Oz said local politicians should have a say in abortion. Democrats see an opportunity.

At Tuesday's Senate debate, Republican Mehmet Oz said abortion law should be up to states to decide — including local politicians.

Republican candidate Mehmet Oz participates in the Pennsylvania Senate debate in Harrisburg.
Republican candidate Mehmet Oz participates in the Pennsylvania Senate debate in Harrisburg.Read moreGreg Nash/Nexstar

While much of the reaction to Tuesday night’s Senate debate has centered on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s performance and lingering speech problems following his stroke, Democrats think Republican Mehmet Oz made the most serious fumble of the night with an an answer on abortion.

Asked about a proposed national ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Oz said it should be up to states to decide — including local politicians.

“I want women, doctors, local political leaders letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves,” Oz said.

Democrats emphasized the “political leaders” part of the response, arguing Oz would allow politicians to interfere with women’s health choices and immediately drawing a line from Oz’s statement to state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who if elected governor would be the local leader who could have the most direct impact on abortion law in the state. (Mastriano has said he believes in a total abortion ban with no exceptions).

This morning, Fetterman’s campaign released an ad saying Oz would let “local politicians like Doug Mastriano,” ban abortions, without exceptions.

» READ MORE: Fetterman's verbal struggles, Oz's abortion comments, and other key debate takeaways

Oz’s answer is actually in line with what he’s said for months regarding abortion. He’s said he supports a ban on the procedure except in instances of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger, but he’s also said he believes the specific laws regarding abortion should be written by individual states, not the federal government.

Still, Democrats saw the moment — and his exact phrasing, on camera — as one that could resonate with a base for whom abortion is already highly motivating.

“Dr. Oz has been very clear on his position. ... He doesn’t believe that the federal government should step in and tell states or local municipalities how to run their abortion laws,” Oz campaign advisor Barney Keller said following the debate. “And he’s been very, very clear on that over and over again.”

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a surrogate for Fetterman who also ran against him in the primary, called the abortion comment a gift for Democrats.

“I think for most people, the takeaway is going to be Oz saying he thinks abortion should be left between a woman, her doctor, and local politicians, which in Pennsylvania means Doug Mastriano,” Kenyatta said.

Oz has distanced himself from Mastriano on the campaign trail, but Kenyatta thinks the moment might make voters will draw a connection between the two Republicans.

“When people are going to vote, they need to recognize this is a package deal.”

» READ MORE: What the Fetterman-Oz debate means for abortion in Pennsylvania

During the debate, Oz refused to explicitly say how he would vote on the 15-week ban proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), hinting he opposed the bill without saying he would vote “no.”

“There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” Oz said.

Pressed three times if that meant he was a yes or no on that legislation, he declined to say.

Fetterman said he would support reinstating federal abortion law as it stood under Roe v. Wade, and Democrats see the issue as a key factor for suburban women.

“If you believe that the choice for abortion belongs between you and your doctor, that’s what I fight for,” Fetterman said.

» READ MORE: ‘Women are the reason we can win,’ Fetterman says at packed abortion-rights rally in Montco