(The Hill) – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday said he has “great confidence” in Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, despite several polls showing the television doctor trailing Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) in the Keystone State.
Asked in Kentucky about Oz’s chances to win the Senate seat, McConnell said he thinks the GOP nominee — who has been painted as an out-of-touch elite from New Jersey by Fetterman’s campaign — has “a great shot at winning.”
“I have great confidence. I think Oz has a great shot at winning,” McConnell told reporters.
The comments came after the Senate leader on Friday hosted a fundraiser for Oz, Georgia Senate candidate Hershel Walker and Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who is running for the upper chamber in North Carolina, all of whom have the backing of former President Trump.
McConnell pointed to that event as proof that he has faith in Oz.
“I don’t think I would have had him here if I didn’t think that,” the Kentucky Republican said.
McConnell’s public votes of confidence for Oz comes despite the television doctor-turned-Republican politician consistently polling behind Fetterman in Pennsylvania’s Senate race. According to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls, Oz is trailing Fetterman, with 39.2 percent to Fetterman’s 48.2 percent.
And his comments come on the heels of a number of gaffs and controversies that have engulfed the Oz campaign — the most recent being the crudité squabble.
The Fetterman campaign earlier this month resurfaced a video Oz first posted in April that showed him shopping for “crudité” in a local grocery store as a way to show the effects of inflation. The lieutenant governor criticized Oz for using the French word to describe a “veggie tray” and for mispronouncing the name of the supermarket.
The ploy raked in more than $500,000 in the 24 hours as the video spread.
Oz’s campaign tried to hit Fetterman — who recently had a stroke — back for the video, with his senior communications adviser writing in a statement, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” But the response attracted even more criticism.
The Pennsylvania Senate election has been one of the most closely watched races this cycle, as Republicans look to tip the 50-50 chamber in their direction come November.
McConnell was bullish about his party’s chances of taking control of the Senate last year, saying November 2022 would be “very good” for Republicans. But he has since changed his tone as a number of GOP nominees are struggling to overcome their Democratic opponents in the polls.
Earlier this month, McConnell said Republicans had a better chance of flipping the House than the Senate, citing “candidate quality,” which was seen as a veiled reference to Oz, Walker and other GOP nominees supported by Trump.
Democrats are currently favored to win control of the Senate over Republicans in November, according to FiveThirtyEight, 67 percent to 33 percent.
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” McConnell said.
Asked during an interview on Fox Business Network last week if he thought McConnell was talking about him, Oz said “he was not,” pointing to contributions McConnell has made in the race.
Despite his concerns, McConnell is throwing his weight behind the Republican nominees in hopes of taking control of the Senate in November.
McConnell was also asked on Monday why he decided to hold a fundraiser last week for Oz, Walker and Budd in particular.
“I pick out three of our candidates every summer that I think have the best shot at winning and invite them and I picked these three because I thought they were in critical states and had a good chance of winning,” he said.
The Senate leader noted that he holds a similar fundraiser every August, and said last week’s event was scheduled roughly six weeks ago.