Voices: Despite Trump endorsement, Dr Oz faces a Republican pile-on in Pennsylvania

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Mehmet Oz, also known as Dr Oz, at a fashion show (Getty Images for The Blue Jacket)
Mehmet Oz, also known as Dr Oz, at a fashion show (Getty Images for The Blue Jacket)

Pennsylvania Republicans badly need to hold the Senate seat that GOP incumbent Pat Toomey is vacating at the end of the year. If they manage that, they can win the Senate majority by flipping just one seat. Last night, the candidates in Pennsylvania convened for a debate and immediately turned their attention to one among their number: Dr Mehmet Oz.

Earlier this month, Donald Trump endorsed the former television host. But that endorsement did little to quiet Republican criticisms that Oz is not sufficiently supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda.

Dave McCormick, the former hedge fund executive and Dr Oz’s strongest competitor, attacked him for changing his positions on everything from abortion to fracking (saying the physician and television host supported a ban on it, a no-no in fracking-heavy Pennsylvania) He also seemed to hit the television host for his selling of bogus treatments while on television, saying: “The reason Mehmet keeps talking about President Trump’s endorsement is because he can’t run on his own positions and his own record. The problem, doctor, is there’s no miracle cure for flip-flopping, and Pennsylvanians are seeing right through your phoniness.”

Similarly, Kathy Barnette said the only reason that Trump endorsed Oz was because of his fame. The accusation is a little peculiar, considering many people in the primary and the general elections of 2016 and 2020 voted for Trump precisely because of his name recognition, earned via decades spent hosting TV shows and cosplaying as a competent businessman.

“A high-name ID, which is really one of the only reasons why Mehmet Oz received that endorsement, works both ways,” Barnette said. “That name ID is so high that people know he is not a conservative.”

Carla Sands, who was Trump’s ambassador to Denmark, sought to also claim that the physician — who has dual citizenship in the United States and Turkey — was insufficiently loyal to the US because of his service in the Turkish military: “He’s Turkey-first. He served in the Turkish military, not the US military, and he chose to do that.”

Conversely – and unsurprisingly – Oz leaned heavily into his endorsement from Trump.

Sands and Barnette are currently undercard candidates. A WHTM/Emerson College Polling/The Hill poll found that Barnette is in third, behind frontrunner McCormick and second-placed Oz, while Sands is in dead last in fifth place behind Jeff Bartos.

But one of the most telling moments in the debate came when Sands hit Barnette for losing to a “weak, weak Democrat” in Representative Madeleine Dean. She contrasted that race and Dean with this year’s Democratic frontrunner Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, saying “he’s strong” and that she could beat him in the fall (which certainly must have made Fetterman’s team thankful for the free advertising while leaving his Democratic primary opponents to gnash their teeth).

But Barnette replied by saying that the election was rigged, a popular position considering the Big Lie is alive and well among Republicans in the state. “Are saying that there was absolutely – that the 2020 [election] was above par?” she asked, rhetorically. “That there was no fraud, that there was no issues with that?”

Sands interrupted to remind her opponent to say that she had lost by roughly 20 points, and she was right about why: Pennsylvania’s 4th District is overwhelmingly blue and even under the new map, the district has a 13-point Democratic lean. But the Big Lie has now given any Republican – even those who lose by overwhelming margins in can’t-win districts – an excuse that they didn’t fail as a candidate, they just lost because the election was rigged.

When candidates were asked about whether it was time to move on, Oz said he had discussed the 2020 election with Trump and said that Democrats made changes to mail-in voting that benefited them. “We cannot move on.”

While President Joe Biden’s low approval rating gives Republicans a lift overall, they have to navigate a potential landmine on abortion. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the coming months regarding Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The court has six conservatives – three of them Trump appointees – which could mean a significant curtailing of Roe v Wade. That, in turn, could put Republicans at risk.

But almost all of the Republican candidates attempted to prove their bona fides opposing abortion. Oz tried to prove he was sufficiently pro-life, especially since many Republicans accused him of criticizing the movement in the past. “He was worried about states putting in pro-life legislation,” McCormick said of his medical rival, seizing on the opportunity. “And he called into question [if] life begins at conception.”

The moderators asked each of the candidates if they supported exceptions to an abortion ban in the case of a mother’s health, rape or incest. Oz and McCormick agreed there should be exceptions, but McCormick was careful to give a narrow definition: “I believe in the very rare instances, there should be exceptions for the life of the mother,” he said.

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