The super PAC affiliated with the Republican Jewish Coalition is beginning a significant ad buy in Pennsylvania that aims to draw attention to a 2013 incident in which John Fetterman, now the state's Democratic nominee for Senate, moved to detain an unarmed Black jogger.
The $1.5 million buy includes two ads on the subject aimed predominantly at the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh markets. They will run on broadcast television and are intended to reach Black voters, according to Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican group. The ad campaign will begin Tuesday and run through Election Day, he said.
The strikingly negative ads focus on a moment that Fetterman's Democratic opponents pummeled him over in the primary. When Fetterman was the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, he brandished a shotgun to stop and detain an unarmed Black jogger, telling police he had heard gunshots and saw the man running, according to the police report.
In the new set of ads, narrators - both of whom are Black - relay aspects of the incident and express outrage.
"My message to Black voters: Do your homework about John Fetterman," says one narrator. "He didn't even apologize. And now he wants our vote? Not a chance."
"Why did John Fetterman see a Black man and do that?" asks another narrator. "He knows why. And our community does too."
A spokesperson for Fetterman did not immediately respond to a request for comment when told about the substance of the ads.
A different group supporting Dr. Mehmet Oz, Pennsylvania's Republican nominee for Senate, began airing spots on the same subject in Pennsylvania last month.
Fetterman, who is now Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, has emphasized that he initially ran for mayor to stop violence. He has strongly disputed any notion that he acted out of bias in 2013, telling PhillyVoice in 2016 that "this had nothing to do with race. The runner could have been my mother for all I knew, thanks to what the jogger was wearing."
No charges related to the incident were brought against Fetterman, who has said he saw someone "dressed entirely in black and a face mask" running in the direction of an elementary school soon after the Sandy Hook shooting.
"I believe I did the right thing," Fetterman told WTAE-TV at the time. "But I may have broken the law during the course of it. I'm certainly not above the law."
Part of that sentence - "I may have broken the law" - is featured in the ads.
The jogger, Christopher Miyares, who in 2018 was charged with multiple felonies in a separate incident, told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a letter from a state prison in 2021 both that Fetterman "lied about everything" and that he hoped Fetterman "gets to be a senator."
Still, during the primary campaign, Fetterman faced sharp criticism for how he handled and discussed the 2013 incident. While he won that race handily, some Democrats worried that Republicans would use the incident to weaken Black turnout in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the general election.
Brooks disputed the idea of that being the goal of the ad campaign.
"I would say it's the exact opposite," he said. "We're trying to change opinions and to maximize the turnout in the African American community for Dr. Oz."
The ads, though, do not mention Oz. Polling for the Republican Jewish Coalition found that Fetterman had an overwhelming lead with Black voters, according to a survey conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 1.
But the survey also found that "just 6% of Pennsylvania voters, including only 4% of Black voters, have seen, read or heard 'a lot'" about the 2013 incident, and that message testing showed that "key Democratic audiences react negatively to information regarding the incident at gunpoint."
"There is clearly an opportunity to litigate this issue, especially among the Black community and within urban areas," the memo said.
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