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One of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races is in Pennsylvania

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Good morning to you on this Election Day. We're going to start in Pennsylvania, where one contest could tip the balance of power in U.S. Senate. Republican Pat Toomey is retiring. If Democrats win his Senate seat, it could help them keep their thin majority in the Senate. If they lose it, Republicans have a better chance of taking control. NPR's Jeff Brady is watching the race from Pittsburgh and joins us now. Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Pennsylvania is a critical swing state. Donald Trump won there in 2016. Then he lost to Joe Biden in 2020. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is running against celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz. With all that background now articulated, what is the state of the race?

BRADY: It's really close. Cook Political Report still calls it a toss-up. Both candidates have been campaigning up to the last minute. I was at an Oz event in Lebanon, Penn., yesterday. He was at a diner. It was packed with supporters. He asked them to all go out and ask others if they're happy with how the country is going. And if people say no, he encouraged them to vote for Oz. I talked with a retired schoolteacher, Jim Walker (ph), outside that diner. He was wearing a red Make America Great Again hat and an NRA T-shirt.

JIM WALKER: The Democrats are taking us down the wrong path, and I think he'll help to correct that.

BRADY: And are there specific issues that are important to you in this race?

WALKER: All of them - lawlessness, the economy mostly, his stance on abortion.

BRADY: Now, that's in central Pennsylvania. You'll get a different response in the Philadelphia suburbs. Bridget Tarnowski (ph) picked up on a Fetterman campaign point there, that Oz only moved to Pennsylvania at the end of 2020, about a year before he started running for Senate.

BRIDGET TARNOWSKI: I am planning to vote for Fetterman, and I think the most important thing is that he's from Pennsylvania. I think that his representation of the working class from central Pennsylvania is very important, even though I'm not from there. I'm from Philly.

BRADY: Tarnowski told me another reason she's voting for Fetterman is abortion access. Fetterman says he'd push to codify those rights after the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade.

MARTIN: We heard that voter there talking about the appeal of Fetterman's working-class image. I mean, has that changed? How are both candidates framing themselves in these last few days of campaigning?

BRADY: Definitely. Fetterman is sticking with that blue-collar guy image. He's got his tattoos and his sweatshirts still out on the campaign trail, sometimes wearing shorts. He talks a lot about defending the average person from the rich and powerful. He mentions Oz's name alongside Trump's as often as possible, painting Oz as an extremist. Oz has his core conservative message about improving the economy, inflation and cracking down on crime with this kind of overall theme of if you don't like where the country is headed, vote for the party that doesn't control Congress now.

MARTIN: So these candidates don't have a heck of a lot in common, but they do share similar views of the natural gas drilling business. How much does that matter to the average Pennsylvanian?

BRADY: You know, it's a big deal here because gas drilling is a big business in the state. Climate change doesn't come up much, though. Instead, discussion has centered on that controversial drilling practice called fracking, which boosts gas production. Both candidates have changed their views on fracking. They've supported moratoriums in the past but now say they support the industry.

MARTIN: We also should touch on the open governor seat race in Pennsylvania, right? What can you tell us quickly?

BRADY: Yeah, we have two different candidates. The Democrat, Josh Shapiro, is Pennsylvania's attorney general. He's from the Philly suburbs. He's got attention for defending the election results two years ago from Trump allies. Republican Doug Mastriano is a state senator, very conservative. He was at the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and he's embraced Trump's false claim that the former president won in 2020. Democrat Shapiro appears to have the edge in this race.

MARTIN: NPR's Jeff Brady, reporting on the Pennsylvania Senate race and other campaigns, thanks so much.

BRADY: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.