The celebrity’s candidacy would shake up a contested Republican primary
Eliana Johnson • November 9, 2021 2:30 pm
The celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz is preparing to jump into the Pennsylvania Senate race on the Republican side, a move that would shake up contested primary and general election contests.
The 61-year-old Oz has begun hiring a staff and reaching out to potential allies, according to influential Republicans familiar with his plans. It is unclear when he is planning an official announcement.
The Cleveland-born, Delaware-raised, and New Jersey-based Oz rose to national attention as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she dubbed him “America’s doctor,” and later as the host of his own program. A political newcomer who has donated to both Democrats and Republicans, Oz’s principal connection to Pennsylvania appears to be his graduate education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned both medical and business degrees in the 1980s. He owns a mansion—and is registered to vote—in neighboring New Jersey and bought a vacation home in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2015, according to public records. He does not own property in Pennsylvania, at least under his own name.
A spokesman for Oz told the Washington Free Beacon, “Since last year, Dr. Oz has lived and voted in Pennsylvania where he attended school and has deep family ties. Dr. Oz has received encouragement to run for the U.S. Senate, but is currently focused on our show and has no announcement at this time.” Oz has a non-permanent voter registration in Pennsylvania connected to a Montgomery County address that appears to belong to his mother-in-law.
Oz would join the military veteran Sean Parnell and the business executive Jeff Bartos, among others, in the Republican primary. State GOP leaders are also urging the Pennsylvania native and Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick to jump into the race, expressing concern that the perceived weaknesses of the current candidates could cost Republicans a winnable race. Parnell is testifying this week in a child-custody battle with his ex-wife that has prompted allegations that he physically abused his wife and children—charges he has denied.
A cardiothoracic surgeon and the director of Columbia University’s Integrative Medicine Center, Oz became a Fox News mainstay during the coronavirus pandemic and would join the race with celebrity appeal and instant name recognition.
A political neophyte, Oz has contributed to politicians from both parties, from Republicans George W. Bush and the late Sen. John McCain to Democrats John Kerry, Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and the former New York congressman Charlie Rangel, according to Federal Election Commission records.
“Tuesday was a really good night, needless to say,” said a Pennsylvania-based Republican strategist, referring to the party’s strong performance in last week’s off-year elections, “but Republicans can mess this up really quickly if we’re putting candidates on the stage whose backgrounds are going to be fodder for October and November campaign ads. Let’s not confuse Tuesday night with a coronation in the Senate.”
Critics are likely to home in not only on Oz’s flimsy ties to the Keystone State but also on the quack solutions—miracle cures for everything from fat loss (raspberry ketones, green coffee beans) to longevity (red palm oil)—that he has hawked to an enormous audience amidst serious and sensible medical advice.
His advocacy for miracle cures is also prompting concerns from senior Republicans involved in next year’s Senate races, one of whom told the Free Beacon that Oz’s “long trail of issues that would be instant fodder for any Democrat running against him.”
It was the same issue that prompted a 2014 congressional inquiry into weight loss product advertising, where the former Missouri senator Claire McCaskill (D.) upbraided him for debasing his show, given his top-notch credentials.
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?” she said at the time. “With power comes a great deal of responsibility.”
Oz’s ties to his family’s native Turkey are also likely to come under scrutiny. A dual U.S. and Turkish citizen, Oz served in the Turkish Army in the 1980s and has since developed a relationship with the country’s president, the strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The nature of their relationship is unclear.
Erdogan has publicly accused the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives on a compound in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, of orchestrating a military coup against him in 2016, a charge that Gulen has denied.
President Joe Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020 after former president Donald Trump narrowly won it in 2016. The popular Republican senator Pat Toomey’s retirement next year will leave an open seat, and the race is now considered a toss-up.