Dr. Mehmet Oz attempted to use the shield of former President Donald Trump’s endorsement to fend off attacks from his Republican rivals in the Pennsylvania Senate race, which included the top candidates casting doubt on the results of the 2020 election.
Oz was among the five GOP candidates gathered in Harrisburg on Monday night, where he leaned on the recent Trump endorsement to rebut repeated claims that he’s not a true Republican. Former hedge fund executive David McCormick, backed by Wall Street donations, has been running attack ads against the celebrity doctor with the messaging that he’s a “Hollywood liberal.”
“They’re designed to fool the electorate,” Oz said of the ads. “Mr. McCormick approached President Trump with these types of information that was unable to pull the wool over his eyes. President Trump saw right through him. He therefore did not endorse Mr. McCormick, he endorsed me. And out of that, another slew of these ads has arisen once again, trying to tell Pennsylvanians something that President Trump doesn’t believe is true and I can state categorically is not true.”
Oz and McCormick have separated themselves in both fundraising and polling in the May 17 primary, which does not require the winner to achieve a majority in order to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey on the ballot in November. Oz spent much of the hourlong debate repeating the fact that Trump had endorsed him, while McCormick said Oz had changed positions on a number of issues.
“The reason Mehmet keeps talking about President Trump’s endorsement is because he can’t run on his own positions and his own record,” McCormick said. “The problem, doctor, is there’s no miracle cure for flip-flopping, and Pennsylvanians are seeing right through your phoniness, and that’s what you’re dealing with and that’s why you’re not taking off in the polls.”
McCormick targeted Oz for a 2015 episode of his talk show in which he discussed transgender youth. Republicans around the country have pushed anti-transgender laws in recent months, banning trans youths from competing in sports and in some instances equating teaching kids about gender to “grooming.”
“I do television shows, as well I should, about views that need to be expressed,” Oz said in reply.
McCormick had tried to earn the endorsement of Trump, attempting to shake off attacks about his business ties with China to present himself as an "America first" candidate. McCormick had earned the support of Sean Parnell, whom Trump had originally endorsed in the race before he dropped out over accusations of domestic abuse. It was announced Monday that Trump would be holding a rally with Oz in western Pennsylvania next month.
“Women, in particular, are drawn to Dr. Oz for his advice and counsel,” Trump said in an April 9 statement announcing his endorsement. “I have seen this many times over the years. They know him, believe in him and trust him. Likewise, he will do very well in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where other candidates will just not be accepted.”
One area where Oz and McCormick were in agreement was on the issue of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump has baselessly claimed was stolen from him in Pennsylvania. When asked if it was time to move on, both said no, with Oz saying, “I have discussed it with President Trump and we cannot move on. … We have to be serious about what happened in 2020, and we won’t be able to address that until we can really look under the hood.”
Another area of overlap was abortion, access to which has been severely restricted across the country by Republican-backed laws. Both Oz and McCormick said exceptions should be made when the life of the mother is in danger, but when asked directly, neither said that similar allowances should be made if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Both Oz, who moved from New Jersey to run for the seat, and McCormick, who moved from Connecticut, have been criticized for not being true Pennsylvanians. The Republican field also includes Carla Sands, a former Trump-appointed ambassador to Denmark, who moved from California to enter the race.
“The two tourists who’ve moved here to run, they don’t know Main Street Pennsylvania,” said Jeff Bartos, a Philadelphia-area real estate investor who has served as the state party’s finance chair and is also running for the Senate seat. “They haven’t cared to spend time there until they decided to run for office.”
“I can promise the people of Pennsylvania, when these carpetbaggers lose, you will never see them again,” said candidate Kathy Barnette, a conservative political commentator.
Oz, who attended medical school and business school in Philadelphia, said Pennsylvanians “care about what I stand for more than where I’m from.” McCormick and Sands touted their families’ multigenerational roots in the state.
The state’s Democratic Senate candidates had their second televised debate on Monday at Dickinson College, located in central Pennsylvania. It was one of the few remaining times for the rivals of John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, to try and stop what has been his steady march to the nomination, fueled by a prolific fundraising haul and name recognition following his high-profile rebuttals of claims of fraud following the 2020 election. Fetterman is running on a platform that includes marijuana legalization, raising the minimum wage, increasing union power, maintaining abortion access and protecting LGBTQ rights.
Fetterman’s top competitor has been Rep. Conor Lamb, a Pittsburgh-area centrist who has attempted to portray himself as the most electable candidate. Last month, Politico reported that Lamb was trailing Fetterman by 30 points and intended to resort to negative campaigning in an attempt to close the gap. Lamb has followed through on the report, but Fetterman has maintained a comfortable margin, leading Lamb by 24% in a Franklin & Marshall College Poll released earlier this month.
Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is Black, have continually highlighted a 2013 incident in which Fetterman — then the mayor of Braddock, a small Pittsburgh suburb — chased down an unarmed Black jogger with a shotgun. Fetterman has disputed the man’s claim that he pointed the shotgun at his chest and has emphasized his reelection in the majority-Black community. It was discussed at last week’s debate as well as Monday evening.
“Here’s the problem: Powerful men like John are used to having to play by a different set of rules,” Kenyatta said. “He wasn’t held accountable because he was the mayor, and he’s trying to not be held accountable now.”
Fetterman opened and closed the event by pointing out that he was the only candidate running from either party to have already won a statewide race, and he called attention to his campaign work in all 67 counties, part of his efforts to keep down the margins in rural, conservative areas, where Republicans typically win by large spreads.
Pennsylvania is likely the Democratic Party’s best chance at picking up a seat in a Senate that is currently divided 50-50. Both the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rate the race as a toss-up. In recent years the state has seen a number of close results in big races, including the last two presidential races and Toomey’s 2016 reelection, all of which were decided by less than 2 points.