3 of Trump's high-profile Senate picks — Dr. Oz, Herschel Walker, and JD Vance — are in serious trouble despite a favorable 2022 midterm climate for the GOP

Collage: Herschel Walker, Dr. Mehmet Oz and JD Vance
From left to right, Republican Senate candidates Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz and JD Vance.Megan Varner, Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
  • From lackluster fundraising totals to low poll numbers, key GOP Senate candidates are in trouble.

  • Georgia's Herschel Walker, Pennsylvania's Mehmet Oz and Ohio's JD Vance are in winnable races.

  • Still, each of them has struggled to break away in general election matchups.

The road for Republicans retaking the Senate runs through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Georgia.

While it's still early, these states' three GOP nominees who've picked up the backing of former President Donald Trump have yet to break away from their Democratic opponents in polling and have already fallen behind in fundraising.

Herschel Walker has struggled with gaffes on the campaign trail and revelations about secret children in Georgia.


A seemingly dormant Mehmet Oz campaign has struggled to unify the MAGA base in Pennsylvania.

JD Vance emerged from the second quarter with a paltry fundraising haul, bringing in just $2.3 million compared to $9.1 million for his Democratic opponent in Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan.

"They're not the best choices because we're not going back to Trump," a member of the Republican National Committee told Insider, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about worries among the party brass.

Trump, Dr Oz
Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz joins former President Donald Trump onstage during a rally in support of his campaign at the Westmoreland County Fairgrounds on May 6, 2022 in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

"I think the Trumpsters are loud, and they think we're going back to Trump," the RNC member continued. "And I could be wrong, but my gut is that we need independent voters to win, and we're not going to get the independents if we run Trump people."

The midterms climate still remains harsh for Democrats, with inflation persisting as a top issue for voters and President Joe Biden's approval rating still below 40%, according to FiveThirtyEight's rolling calculation.

Democrats would welcome the chance to win the pair of seats being vacated by retiring Republican Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio. After all, they enter the 2022 midterms holding onto the tightest of margins in the Senate with a 50-50 split, bolstered by Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote when needed.

"It's simply amazing and/or scary to me that Democrats' greatest hope to keep the Senate depends on a bunch of right-wing whack jobs being too toxic to get elected in this day and age," Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist with decades of experience in the Senate under Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid, told Insider in a text message.

'Enough slippage' to give Democrats a chance

Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University, outlined a trend of Vance, Oz, and Walker polling lower than other Republicans for statewide office in the same otherwise favorable midterms landscape.

With the slight exception of Vance — who sat 3 percentage points ahead of Ryan in the latest USA Today poll, within the margin of error — Oz and Walker both trail their Democratic opponents in the Real Clear Politics tracker. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leads Oz by between 6 and 9 percentage points, while Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock leads Walker by an average of 2.8 percentage points.

"Candidates still matter, especially in these high profile races for Senate governor compared to House races," Abramowitz told Insider.

They run the risk of repeating the mistakes of other Republicans fumbling seemingly safe Senate seats in recent years, such as Roy Moore of Alabama in a 2017 special election and Todd Akin of Missouri in 2012, he added. Moore lost to former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones amid allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, while Akin failed to unseat former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill after his false claim that survivors of "legitimate rape" are less likely to become pregnant.

Herschel Walker speaks to supporters during an election night watch party
Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel WalkerAP Photo/Brynn Anderson

While there hasn't been an equivalent flashpoint for any of the three high-profile Trump picks as yet, Abramowitz identified weaknesses that Democratic opponents are already exploiting.

"He just seems to have trouble speaking in coherent sentences, like when he's trying to answer questions or actually staying on topic," Abramowitz said of Walker. "The result is that we're seeing him run behind [Republican Georgia Gov. Brian] Kemp, for example.

"It's not a huge gap," Abramowitz continued. "But given that both of these races are likely to be pretty close, it looks to me like there's enough slippage there, that there are enough of these swing voters who could determine the outcome."

'Personal baggage' and 'extreme positions' count at the ballot box

Candidates can become waylaid in easily winnable races if they carry "a lot of personal baggage" or take "extreme positions" in their primaries, Abramowitz explained.

Despite Walker having household name-level recognition among Georgians old enough to remember his national championship and Heisman Trophy-winning seasons for the University of Georgia college football team, the gaffes are "definitely having an impact," the professor said.

Recently, Walker pontificated about climate change in a mangled tangent about "good air space," which Georgia Democrats immediately used to campaign against him.

"Since we don't control the air, our good air decided to float over to China's bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move," Walker said. "So it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got to clean that back up, while they're messing ours up."

Walker has also barred press from events, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, sticking to a "velvet rope" approach of limited access.

Mallory Blount, Walker's deputy campaign manager for communications, told Insider in a statement that the candidate "is doing open press events across the state to drive the message that Raphael Warnock has done more for Joe Biden than he has done for Georgia."

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Politico reported that Oz has kept low profile and went dark on the airwaves in the immediate aftermath of his razor-thin primary victory, all while his opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, has been recovering from a stroke and is yet to return to the campaign trail.

Oz appeared at a pair of cheesesteak joints in Philadelphia over the weekend.

"I think he's given Fetterman kind of a break here by not campaigning more aggressively," Abramowitz said.

While both Vance and Oz are running as self-described outsiders, they both face lines of attack from their opponents questioning their authenticity. For Oz, it's his history of living in New Jersey. For Vance, it's his previous criticism of Trump that he has since walked back, saying Trump's performance in office changed his mind.

"Since Dr. Oz's victory remarks on June 9th, he has been to over 75 events," Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick told Insider in a statement. The Oz campaign would not say when it has plans to launch new TV ads.

The Vance campaign responded to Insider's request for comment by attacking Rep. Tim Ryan.

"Tim Ryan votes with Joe Biden 100% of the time. Everywhere JD goes, Ohioans make clear they're fed up with Joe Biden, Tim Ryan and Democrats' inflationary policies, the border crisis and their soft on crime attitude that's making our big cities more dangerous places to live," Vance's campaign press secretary, Taylor Van Kirk, told Insider in a statement. "JD just finished his Law and Order tour where he met with local law enforcement across Ohio to hear about the real problems they face, all while Tim Ryan slanders law enforcement and viciously labels them the new 'Jim Crow.'"

Mark Longabaugh, a longtime Democratic campaign operative, cited the threesome of Oz, Walker, and Vance, as the exact kind of candidates who might upend the GOP's chances in an otherwise favorable electoral climate in 2022.

"It's why Democrats have a chance of holding onto the Senate," he told Insider, "is just the horrible class of candidates they've nominated."

Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.

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