Summer Campaign Strategies For Pennsylvania Governor & Senate Races

The strengths, challenges and expected outreach tactics for John Fetterman, Mehmet Oz, Doug Mastriano and Josh Shapiro

Larry Ceisler smiling with Summer Campaign Insights written in blue to his right on the graphic

For Pennsylvania voters who thought they might get a short break from politics after the May primaries — well, the campaigns start now. You can expect an onslaught of TV, radio, social and digital media ads from now through Nov. 8.


Three of the four major statewide campaigns — with GOP governor candidate Doug Mastriano being the exception — already have the money they need to run at 100 %. Expect them to immediately start defining their own image — as well as that of their opponents’, aiming to put them into a hole they can’t climb out of.


By Election Day, spending will break all Pennsylvania records. And it’s more than just those campaigns’ direct money. For better or worse, much of the inundation of ads will come from independent money that doesn’t coordinate with the candidates but will invest millions upon millions creating their own narratives.


Let’s look at the two big races, starting with the Senate campaign between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and TV doctor Mehmet Oz. As my friend Michael Smerconish says, this one is a battle of the brands, with both candidates more about image than issues.


Fetterman & Oz

Fetterman’s strength is being out with the people. His appeal extends to the disaffected Democrats and independents who opted for Donald Trump in the past. Many of those voters live outside of urban areas, so for his campaign, retail politics — pressing the flesh in places like Clearfield, Elk and Washington counties — is as important as TV, digital and social media efforts.


After his recent stroke, Fetterman must eventually show voters he’s healthy enough for the job. There’s a natural break in the campaign now for rest, fundraising and some paid media. Then he can get out on the trail, and not just be restricted to stage-managed events. Then he’ll be fine.


Oz faces early challenges. He’s the only candidate in my memory who, despite winning the primary, starts the general campaign under water with both parties. Primary opponent David McCormick’s attacks were so effective that half of Oz’s own GOP voters now view him unfavorably.


Another challenge Oz has is this: Whereas Trump’s endorsement got him the extra votes he needed to win the primary, the former president’s support could become a burden in the general.


Oz now needs to move to the middle. He certainly won’t run as pro-choice or anti-gun, but he also won’t emphasize anti-choice or pro-gun positions. His ads will be about his personality – he’ll be a vessel that people can fill as they wish.


So even though Oprah isn’t endorsing Oz, and probably won’t, he’ll want to sell Democrats and independents on that TV personality that still carries the Oprah halo.


Mastriano & Shapiro

In the governor’s race, Democrat Josh Shapiro’s strategy is straightforward. He’ll be on TV and social media emphasizing his values and strong record. And he’ll keep making people aware of what his opponent, Doug Mastriano, stands for. And Josh doesn’t need to exaggerate any of those claims.


Shapiro’s strategy may be less about gaining Republicans and independents as much as getting those voters to skip the governor’s race altogether — depressing certain portions of GOP turnout. He can do that by clobbering Mastriano on some extreme positions. If he can get certain Republicans and independents to the point of saying, “I can’t vote for either of these guys,” then that’s a win for Shapiro.


What I don’t know is how Mastriano grows his base. He’s not going to raise a lot of money. It’s a state race, so he may benefit from outside groups spending heavily in an attempt to broaden his appeal more than he can do himself. I don’t know the man, but watching him I sense he believes he can attract voters just by being himself and doing what he believes. To me, that looks like a steep challenge right now.

Larry Ceisler professional headshot, co-founder and CEO of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy

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