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The race for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat: A guide

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (AP) Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (AP)

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson April 1, 2022

UPDATE: On April 9, former President Donald Trump endorsed Mehmet Oz in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania's Senate race. 

Quick take

In Pennsylvania, one of the most important swing states on today’s political map, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring, leaving open a seat that both parties are fiercely contesting in the effort to tilt control of the evenly divided U.S. Senate. The primary will be held May 17.

On the Republican side, the two best known and most well-funded candidates are Dave McCormick, a hedge fund CEO and onetime federal official under President George W. Bush, and Mehmet Oz, a surgeon widely known from his long-running TV show. 

"It increasingly seems like a two-person race between Oz and McCormick," said Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick. "They have been pounding each other with ads that attempt to expose core weaknesses."

By late March, McCormick and Oz had spent at least $24 million in ads, according to data provided to Fox News by the national ad tracking firm AdImpact. Other GOP candidates had spent a collective $16 million on ads, while Democratic candidates had spent almost $10 million.

Ads for Oz have blasted McCormick for his business ties to China and for alleged disloyalty to former President Donald Trump, while ads for McCormick targeted Oz’s dual citizenship with Turkey, a line of attack that led Oz to say he would renounce his Turkish citizenship if he is elected. One super PAC opposing Oz aired an ad mocking the candidate for kissing his star on a Hollywood sidewalk; in a counter-ad, Oz called McCormick "part of the swamp that labeled President Trump as Hollywood."

If McCormick and Oz both end up wounded by ads, it could leave a narrow lane for an unscathed third candidate to emerge as a potential nominee, such as Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer, or Carla Sands, a former ambassador under President Donald Trump.

By contrast, the Democratic primary has been more congenial in tone and features three major candidates. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a former mayor, is known for his burly, tattooed persona and his advocacy for legalizing marijuana. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a lawyer and Marine reservist, initially won his U.S. House seat in deep-red territory. And state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta is the lone Black and LGBTQ-identifying candidate in the Democratic primary.

"Fetterman can safely be called the frontrunner, with Lamb viable but steps behind," Borick said. "Lamb's electability pitch may yet resonate with Democratic voters, but it will likely have to be paired with a more aggressive effort to weaken Fetterman."

In all, the GOP and Democratic primaries "are still very much up for grabs," said Larry Ceisler, a longtime Democratic consultant in Pennsylvania politics.

PolitiFact plans to fact-check candidates for U.S. Senate in multiple key states, including Ohio. If you spot a claim in an ad, speech, debate or on social media that you think may warrant a fact-check, email us at [email protected].

The major candidates

Dave McCormick: Campaign website

Biography: McCormick has deep pockets, thanks to his tenure as CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund. He attended West Point, where he was a wrestler, and became an Army Ranger; he was one of the first U.S. troops to enter Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War and earned a Bronze Star. McCormick worked for international consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and later for FreeMarkets, a Pittsburgh-based technology firm. He earned a Ph.D. in international affairs from Princeton University and served in senior posts in the George W. Bush administration at the Commerce Department, the Treasury Department, and the White House. He is married to Dina Powell, who was President Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser. McCormick was born in Pittsburgh and raised on his family’s farm in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, but he lived in Connecticut for more than a decade prior to running for Senate.

Core policies: Moving supply chains out of China and bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States; encouraging coal mining and natural gas; toughening immigration enforcement, including building Trump’s border wall; opposing vaccine mandates; enacting voter ID requirements.

Key backers: National Border Patrol Council; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders; former Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell. McCormick’s campaign has hired former Trump White House aides Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks.

Mehmet Oz: Campaign website 

Biography: Oz is a heart surgeon and attending physician at New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center. He graduated from Harvard University and earned a joint MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Wharton Business School. Oz came to national prominence as a medical expert on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show, a role he later turned into his own syndicated program, "The Dr. Oz Show." He is also a New York Times bestselling author and has received a variety of patents for medical devices. However, other doctors have criticized Oz for endorsing questionable therapies on his show, such as diet and wellness supplements. Oz was born in Ohio to Turkish immigrants; he served in the Turkish military and said he kept his Turkish citizenship to ease visits to his ailing mother, who lives in Turkey. Oz is a longtime New Jersey resident who registered to vote in Pennsylvania in 2020 at his in-laws’ address.

Core policies: Oz is portraying himself as a political outsider, arguing that "feckless leadership in Congress means we have representatives who are more afraid of being ‘cancelled’ and more interested in winning re-election than bravely challenging orthodoxy." Oz criticizes what he characterizes as groupthink in the response to COVID-19: "Dissenting opinions from leading scholars, even Nobel Laureates, were canceled and ridiculed so their ideas could not be disseminated. Doctors were forbidden from prescribing legal medications for the first time in our nation’s history." Oz now supports abortion restrictions, a change from past views.

Key backers: Fox News host Sean Hannity, rocker and conservative activist Ted Nugent, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler.

Jeff Bartos: Campaign website

Biography: Bartos owns a contracting company and several real estate acquisition and development companies in the Philadelphia metro area, and he has previously been a senior executive at Toll Brothers, Inc. and Mark Group, Inc. In 2018, Bartos was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor after winning a four-way primary; the GOP ticket lost in the general election to Democrat Tom Wolf, who was running with Fetterman as his ticket-mate. Unlike McCormick and Oz, Bartos has been a Pennsylvania resident consistently in recent years, a difference he emphasizes on the campaign trail.

Core policies: While every GOP primary candidate running for Senate has courted the pro-Trump, strongly conservative base of the party, Bartos’ rhetoric is perceived as slightly softer. He has emphasized policies to curb opioid abuse and job creation. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bartos founded the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, a nonprofit that provides forgivable loans to small businesses affected by COVID-19.

Key backers: State Treasurer Stacy Garrity, some state lawmakers and municipal leaders.

Carla Sands: Campaign website

Biography: Sands, the only woman among the leading Senate contenders, was tapped by Trump to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Previously, she was a doctor of chiropractic and later chairman and CEO of Vintage Capital Group, a real estate company that had been led by her husband until his death in 2015.

Core policies: Sands’ agenda mirrors the other candidates, including criticism of the Democratic agenda and support for energy development. "We have enough under the ground right here in Pennsylvania to power our entire country for 300 years," she has said.

Key backers: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, plus several state legislators and Trump-era officials.

George Bochetto: Campaign website

Biography: A Philadelphia attorney, Bochetto received attention for defending a Christopher Columbus statue from being removed from a Philadelphia park. He has also been active in the case to keep Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man convicted of murdering a police officer in the 1980s, behind bars. Bochetto grew up in an orphanage in Brooklyn before being adopted. He earned his law degree from Temple University and ran unsuccessfully for Philadelphia mayor in 1999. He served as an appointed Pennsylvania State Boxing Commissioner from 1995 to 2002. Bochetto’s law firm aided Trump’s second impeachment defense.

Core policies: Bochetto has emphasized crime and justice. In a rally at police union headquarters, he was introduced by the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia police officer Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing.

Key backers: Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman; Fraternal Order of Police Philadelphia Lodge #5; Italian Sons and Daughters of Philadelphia

Kathy Barnette: Campaign website

Background: Barnette, a former military reservist, has appeared on national TV and radio programs as a conservative, pro-Trump activist. She is from the Philadelphia suburbs and lost a bid for the U.S. House in 2020.

Core policies: She wrote the book, "Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America," which "explains why liberal policies have failed the Black community." 

Key backers: Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; state Sen. Doug Mastriano; Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah; Pennsylvania State Police FOP Pioneer Lodge #37.


John Fetterman: Campaign website

Biography: Fetterman is the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, a position that also makes him chair of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. Previously, Fetterman served for 13 years as the mayor of Braddock, a low-income steel town near Pittsburgh. Fetterman got his start participating in AmeriCorps, the federal service program, in a lower-income neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He moved to Braddock to start a GED program and eventually ran for mayor in 2005. He has a masters in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Core policies: Fetterman, along with the other two Democratic candidates, supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, abortion rights, voting rights, and an assault-weapons ban and expanded gun background checks.

Fetterman’s signature issue is marijuana legalization, taking the idea on the road by holding meetings in all 67 counties in the state. Related to his position on marijuana, Fetterman has advocated for criminal justice reform, including in his role on the pardons board. Fetterman touts having taken "numerous steps to overhaul the clemency process in Pennsylvania, including eliminating all fees associated with applying for a pardon, making the pardons application more user-friendly, and working to move the application process online."

Fetterman has also been supportive of LBGTQ rights, officiating one of the first same-sex marriages in the commonwealth. As mayor, he worked to block a four-lane Interstate highway from going through Braddock, arguing that the 80% Black community "already suffered historically high asthma rates."

Key backers: United Steelworkers, UFCW 1776, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, various local Democratic officials.

Conor Lamb: Campaign website

Biography: Lamb is a Marine and a former federal prosecutor who is currently representing a district north of Pittsburgh in the U.S. House. Lamb initially won his seat in a special election in March 2018, running in a district to the south that Trump had won by nearly 20 points. Lamb went on to win reelection in a different district in November 2018 and 2020.

Core policies: Lamb has run for the House as a moderate, though he’s shifted to the left somewhat while running in the current Senate primary. Perhaps his biggest break with Democratic orthodoxy has been his opposition to a ban of fracking, a method of natural gas extraction that has been a major economic engine in southwestern Pennsylvania. "We need to be honest about the fact that natural gas is a critical bridge fuel that helps us keep people warm and keep the lights on at a price people can afford, and it is American-made," Lamb said on his website.

Lamb has also said that he personally opposes abortion but has voted in line with pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood since serving in Congress.

Key backers: Building trade unions, the National Organization of Women, many state and local Democratic elected officials.

Malcolm Kenyatta: Campaign website

Biography: The race’s youngest candidate at 31, Kenyatta is Black and openly gay. He represents a Philadelphia-based district in the state House and is a member of the governor’s Suicide Prevention Task Force. He was part of a keynote address of "rising stars" at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. 

Core policies: Kenyatta’s positions are largely in line with those of his primary rivals. The biggest difference is on fracking policy; he has taken the strongest line of the three against fracking, urging a moratorium on new drilling sites. Like Fetterman, he supports federal legalization of marijuana. 

Key backers: The American Federation of Teachers, some Democrats in the legislature, and some unions.

Our fact checks

Dave McCormick: "We all know China created COVID." (False)

Mehmet Oz, "David McCormick fired Pennsylvanians and bragged about shipping their jobs to Asia." (Mostly False)

Mehmet Oz, "David McCormick paid for attacks on Donald Trump." (False)

Carla Sands, "Joe Biden's "$4 trillion" Build Back Better bill is "the largest expansion of welfare programs in 60 years." (Half True)

Penn Progress, a Pro-Conor Lamb super PAC: "John Fetterman's a self-described democratic socialist" (False)

Dave McCormick: "Mehmet Oz 'called for a New Zealand-style gun ban" and said "Americans should have less access to guns.'" (Mostly True)

Mehmet Oz, "Dave McCormick is "liberal, pro-Biden, pro-China." (False.)

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Our Sources

Dave McCormick: Campaign website

Mehmet Oz: Campaign website 

Jeff Bartos: Campaign website

Carla Sands: Campaign website

George Bochetto: Campaign website

Kathy Barnette: Campaign website

John Fetterman: Campaign website

Conor Lamb: Campaign website

Malcolm Kenyatta: Campaign website

Pennsylvania Capital-Star, "An early guide to Pennsylvania’s 2022 Senate and governor’s primary election," March 15, 2022

Fox Business, "Pennsylvania is home to most expensive Senate race in nation," March 24, 2022

City & State Pennsylvania, "Endorsements in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race keep stacking up," March 28, 2022

Philadelphia Inquirer, "Where the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidates do and don't agree," March 7, 2022

New York Times, "Dr. Oz’s Heritage Is Targeted as Rivals Vie for Trump Backing," March 18, 2022

The Hill, "Pennsylvania Senate primaries get personal," March 28, 2022

Daily Beast, "Inside Dr. Oz’s Shameless Flip-Flop on Abortion," Dec. 7, 2021

Associated Press, "Oz vows to renounce Turkish citizenship if elected senator," March 17, 2022

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "For GOP Senate candidate Jeff Bartos, front-runners for the job aren’t true Pennsylvanians," March 22, 2022

WOLF-TV, "Republican Senate hopeful Carla Sands," March 27, 2022

Philadelphia Inquirer, "George Bochetto launches Pa. Republican Senate campaign," March 4, 2022

Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, "Pennsylvania Senate: Which Candidate Is the Primary Prescription for Republicans?" Dec. 17, 2021

Email interview with Christopher Borick, political scientist at Muhlenberg College, March 31, 2022

Interview with Larry Ceisler, founder of Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy, March 29, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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The race for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat: A guide