At a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh this month, Pennsylvania’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro weaved his way through the crowd, approaching Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman with an open palm.
The two went in for the sort of handshake exchanged between teammates in a locker room, with a slap on the back to top it off. Fetterman pointed both his index fingers in the air at Shapiro, shouting out, “Our next governor!”
Shapiro, his voice bellowing through the crowd, pointed back at Fetterman, exclaiming, “The 51st vote!”
The friendly interaction as Pennsylvania Democrats’ top two contenders is the result of a years-long working relationship between Shapiro and Fetterman, who served in Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration together and have a long chain of cheeky exchanges online. They’ve shared pictures of their families together at events—and spent time campaigning together long before their current bids for higher office. Shapiro, seemingly jokingly, once called Fetterman his “little brother.”
But now, with a larger election at play, the displays of political companionship have more at stake and the perception of unity is particularly valuable. As they portray Democrats at the top of the Pennsylvania ticket as being united—the Republican ticket has more of a shotgun engagement energy.
The two Democrats are different kinds of politicians: Shapiro more polished and traditional, Fetterman carrying more of an everyman’s ambiance. They’re from opposite ends of the state, with Fetterman building his political career in the Western borough of Braddock and Shapiro rising up in the Philadelphia suburbs. Fetterman’s ostensibly more progressive, while Shapiro’s taken a more moderate, pragmatist approach in his campaign.
But instead of their two differing political personalities clashing, Shapiro and Fetterman are seemingly strategizing to complement each other throughout the state. Former chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party T.J. Rooney described it as the “ying and the yang of the Democratic Party coming together for a common cause.”
“It’s great because they’re playing off of each other’s strengths,” Rooney said, noting that Fetterman and Shapiro are “not cut from the same cloth, remotely.”
In a swing state like Pennsylvania—where Republicans are desperately hoping to take back control of the governor’s mansion and to retain their hold on the Senate seat—both parties’ ability to win on the margins is essential to their success. By having two candidates with different appeals, strategists like Rooney think Democrats have a wider net for picking up voter support.
Shapiro and Fetterman’s dynamic is complemented by the force of Democrats coming out on the trail. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), for one, has been stumping for both Shapiro and Fetterman—prompting now-trademark social media exchanges with Fetterman, who is arguably the most-online Senate candidate this cycle.
In one photo tweeted by Fetterman from the trail in August, he and Casey stood with two women wearing inflatable broccoli costumes—a dig at a viral video of Mehmet Oz fancily calling a vegetable board “crudités.”
And in a TikTok, Casey laid out his vision for a Fetterman win, waving his hand across a giant map of Pennsylvania and forecasting the Senate hopeful will pick up votes in the most rural areas of the Keystone State.
Even the most prominent Fetterman primary challengers, including Rep. Conor Lamb, state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta and Val Arkoosh, are coming out to bat too. At an event earlier this month, Lamb, Kenyatta, Fetterman and Arkoosh stood together in a photo Kenyatta later captioned “Democrats are UNITED.”
On a press call last week supporting Shapiro, Kenyatta told The Daily Beast it was an easy decision for Democrats to coalesce this cycle. “It was not a big debate on our side about whether or not he should lead our party or he should lead this ticket.”
Shapiro, who currently serves as the state’s attorney general, was the lone primary contender for the Democratic nomination.
The budding professional bromance between Fetterman and Shapiro, coupled with their unified support from leading state Democrats, comes in stark contrast to Republicans, who seemingly can’t finesse the same.
Television doctor Mehmet Oz and far-right gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano have formed an uncomfortable marriage atop the ticket. Both endorsed by former President Donald Trump, they dually eked out primary wins while capitalizing on Pennsylvania’s MAGA-faithful vote
But that’s where their right-wing camaraderie seems to end.
The leading Republicans’ only public event together so far was when Trump visited Pennsylvania this month, inviting Oz and Mastriano to share the stage as lead-up speakers—and while they spoke back-to-back, they did not appear on stage together on camera. Neither the Oz nor the Mastriano campaign responded to requests for comment on whether Oz and Mastriano have spent any more time in person together this cycle, plan to in the future, or how they keep in touch more generally.
The two did exchange at least one text congratulating each other on primary night, according to the AP.
Their apparent unfriendliness dates back to that primary cycle. At that time, Mastriano was a staunch supporter of Kathy Barnette, a far-right commentator whom Democrats were subtly rooting for, believing she’d be the easiest to beat of any of the GOP Senate primary contenders. But while going to bat for Barnette, Mastriano actively bashed Oz with many of the same talking points Democrats are using now.
“Who does he pal around with, you know, Oprah Winfrey? You know, the Hollywood class. We have tapes of him, you know, approving of abortion, suddenly, he’s pro-life now because his Republican primary, we have video of him, encouraging, you know, changing your gender and all this kind of stuff,” Mastriano said in an interview on The Bombeck Show in March.
“And so I just, you know, something’s wrong. And he’s not even living in Pennsylvania when he entered this race,” he added.
Since then, the duo have done little to quell questions about their relationship—and outside players aren’t helping frame Republicans as a unified ticket.
Mastriano’s most high-profile campaign aide Jenna Ellis this month responded to a tweet from Oz saying he would support legislation in the Senate to codify same-sex marriage into law, writing curtly, “Oof. Pennsylvania, please get out and show up for Doug Mastriano.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) the outgoing senator in Pennsylvania whom both Oz and Fetterman are running to replace, has endorsed and campaigned alongside Oz but is refusing to do the same for Mastriano. He’s repeatedly told reporters he’s focusing on the Senate seat and a few House races.
Just this week, according to Politico, the wife of Oz’s campaign co-chair, Jeff Bartos, who’d run for the Senate seat himself, co-hosted a fundraiser for none other than Shapiro, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Bartos joined his wife at the event.
And unlike the Democratic side, failed GOP primary contenders haven’t all come out to play. Barnette, for one, made clear in June that she had not yet endorsed Oz this cycle, and she did not respond to a request for comment on whether that’s changed. Sightings of primary challengers on the general election trail have been sparse.
In style, the two are notably different. Oz is a rich television personality who prides himself on intellect and education, while Mastriano is a star among Christian nationalists, a military veteran and unafraid of isolating marginalized groups. Mastriano has rejected interviews with virtually every press outlet that’s approached him.
Mastriano also notably has a history of sharing Islamophobic and anti-Muslim posts, including one that suggested Americans should be fearful of Muslims serving in Congress. Oz, if elected, would be the first Muslim to serve in the Senate.
The Oz campaign did not respond on whether Oz has any concerns about these past sentiments from Mastriano, and the Mastriano campaign did not respond on whether Mastriano still holds his position on Muslims serving in Congress.
As the Republicans keep mum on their relationship, at a distance, Democrats are taking notice and cashing in.
Shapiro campaign spokesperson Manual Bonder wrote in a statement to The Daily Beast, “Doug Mastriano has spent his entire campaign making it clear he is too extreme for Pennsylvania. Now, he’s showing he is even too extreme for his own out-of-touch running mate.”
“Next time Mehmet Oz is back from New Jersey,” he added, “they should probably get together and clear this up.”