Democrats tried to kick-start their push to win Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race Thursday, even with their own candidate sidelined and the GOP nominee still undecided.

With the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, still out of the spotlight as he recovers from a stroke, his party launched the first coordinated attack of the general election, holding a series of events across the state to criticize whoever wins the ongoing recount in the Republican primary, whether it’s Mehmet Oz or David McCormick.

“The Democratic Party is unified behind a candidate who can win,” Sen. Bob Casey told reporters in a Zoom call, pointing to Fetterman’s dominant victory, in which he won every county in the state.

Meanwhile, he said, Oz and McCormick spent tens of millions of dollars “kicking the hell out of each other” in a primary that exposed them as “extreme” followers of former President Donald Trump.

“That’s not what we want in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We don’t elect United States senators to pay tribute to a politician or to an extreme part of the electorate.”

Republicans pushed back, painting Fetterman as the extremist and attempting to tie him to both President Joe Biden, whose poll numbers have sunk, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

“What you have in Fetterman is really just a tall Bernie Sanders far too extreme for the voters of Pennsylvania,” said U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a prominent Oz supporter.

The Democratic public relations push comes in a unique window of uncertainty for the party as it lines up behind Fetterman, who won handily in May but who has been off the campaign trail since his May 13 stroke. It’s also a moment of political opportunity for Democrats, given Republicans still don’t have a nominee. Celebrity doctor Oz and former hedge fund executive McCormick are waiting for the results of a statewide recount where Oz has a slight lead, effectively putting the general election on hold.

Making the pitch without Fetterman

Yet the Democratic events were also notable for what was missing. Fetterman hasn’t been able to make the case for himself since coasting to victory May 17, and it’s still unclear when he will be able to do so in public — though his campaign said an announcement is “coming soon.”

Instead, the early stages of the general election have featured allies rallying behind Fetterman. Thursday was the first public showing of widespread party support for Fetterman, who won the nomination largely without establishment support.

The Thursday afternoon events included a news conference in Philadelphia and a Zoom call with journalists, Casey, and party chair Nancy Patton Mills.

In Philadelphia, city party chair Bob Brady, who backed U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, said the “family squabble” known as the Democratic primary was over, and voiced his full support for Fetterman.

Brady said he thought Fetterman’s outsider approach to his campaign — one that Brady previously criticized — will serve him well in the general election. “He wasn’t the establishment kind of guy, and he won easily by not being that, and now he’s going to be that. So he’s got both things going,” Brady said.

He and others called McCormick and Oz “carpetbaggers,” Oz a “fraudster,” and McCormick a “poster child for the 1%.”

“They don’t care about our families in our communities,” said State Rep. Donna Bullock, who had backed her colleague State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta in the primary. “They are millionaires who have made their millions in outsourcing jobs to China. ... They are scam artists.”

“They refuse to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election,” said State Sen. Nikil Saval, “will seek to outlaw abortion at a national level, and have been members of a party that has fought every attempt to make the lives of working-class people better.”

Republicans tie Fetterman to Biden

Republicans have begun their own efforts to paint Fetterman as the extremist in the race, calling him too liberal for Pennsylvania. “He’ll vote with Joe Biden every single time,” said a video released this week from the GOP’s national Senate campaign arm. The group planned to begin an ad buy Friday.

Reschenthaler predicted that Oz will be declared the GOP winner next week and that Republican voters will rally around him once they compare him with Fetterman. He likened it to Republicans coming around to Trump after a bitter 2016 presidential primary.

The contrast between Oz and Fetterman “is going to bring those Republicans home,” he said.

The McCormick campaign is also predicting victory, and linked Fetterman to an unpopular Biden — including by launching a digital ad saying the “Biden-Fetterman agenda is failing Pennsylvania families.”

“With Joe Biden unaware of the country’s baby formula shortage and [the] Treasury Secretary admitting her miscalculations on inflation, it’s never been more clear how out-of-touch and tone-deaf Democrats are on the daily issues impacting families across the Commonwealth,” said McCormick spokesperson Jess Szymanski.

While the GOP is temporarily frozen, Fetterman has also been unable to personally make his case so far.

His campaign said on Thursday that a Wednesday checkup appointment had gone well and there soon would be news about when he’ll return to the trail.

The campaign has not made doctors available or released any statements from medical professionals treating him, leading some physicians to question the campaign’s explanation of the medical treatment he’s received.

Asked if Fetterman has been transparent enough about his health, Brady said: “I absolutely think he will be. ... It’s just about two weeks out from the [primary] election. I don’t think we’ve seen much of the other candidates out there, except trying to beat each other up on the recount.”

The Republican National Committee criticized Fetterman’s absence Thursday, highlighting news reports it was concerning some Democrats.

“Is John Fetterman still running for U.S. Senate? Pennsylvania Democrats don’t even seem to know,” said RNC spokesperson Rachel Lee.

In Fetterman’s absence, the campaign has announced several high-profile but expected endorsements. They include SEIU, the statewide health-care union; former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ gun control PAC; and the “Fab Four,” Philadelphia area U.S. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan,, Susan Wild Mary Gay Scanlon, and Madeleine Dean.

Democratic state chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills also pointed to Oz’s and McCormick’s recent residencies in New Jersey and Connecticut, respectively, foreshadowing a line of attack awaiting whichever Republican becomes the nominee.

McCormick was born and raised in Pennsylvania but recently lived in Connecticut for more than a decade. He bought a house in Pittsburgh just before launching his Senate campaign earlier this year. Oz, who grew up in Delaware, went to medical and business school in Philadelphia, but after that lived for more than 30 years in New Jersey and worked in New York. He says he moved to his in-laws’ home in Montgomery County in late 2020, about a year before beginning his Senate campaign. His in-laws have long-standing ties to Montgomery County, and Oz purchased a home there earlier this year.

Casey and Mills both said they were confident Fetterman would be up to campaigning once he’s back on the trail.

“After a long primary on both sides, in both parties, I think voters need a rest, too. They don’t need to be hearing from candidates every minute of every day,” Casey said. “I think he’s going to be strong and ready.”

Questions linger

Meanwhile, Fetterman, 52, remains at home recovering in Braddock. His campaign spokesperson said Fetterman was examined by a neurologist and a cardiologist, both specialists who saw him when he first went into Lancaster General Hospital, where he had a pacemaker and defibrillator put in May 17.

The campaign’s explanation of his medical treatment, particularly the use of a defibrillator to treat Fetterman’s condition, which they have said is atrial fibrillation, has raised questions among some doctors.

Spokesperson Joe Calvello said Thursday the campaign was working on requests to hear from doctors, saying that opportunity would come “hopefully very soon.”

Fetterman has resumed some campaign work from home. He met with senior staff Wednesday and has a planned call with Biden some time this week.

“He’s continuing to recover, to get back to full strength,” Calvello said, “doing what needs to be done and making sure the campaign is still moving while he’s recovering.”