Dr. Mehmet Oz, a physician known to national TV audiences, announced Tuesday that he will run for the Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican, throwing more uncertainty into the closely watched primary.
“We are angry at our government and at each other,” Oz wrote in a guest column published by The Washington Examiner. “We have not managed our crises as effectively as past generations. During the pandemic, I learned that when you mix politics and medicine, you get politics instead of solutions. That’s why I am running for the U.S. Senate: to help fix the problems and to help us heal.”
Pennsylvania’s Senate battle became a spectacle last week when former President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidate, Sean Parnell, ended his campaign after his estranged wife was granted sole legal custody of their children in a case in which she alleged abuse. Parnell denied the accusations.
“Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first,” Oz, echoing Trump, said in his announcement video.
Oz, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school and the Wharton School who as recently as last year lived in New Jersey, registered to vote in Pennsylvania last year at the home of his in-laws, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He discussed his candidacy in greater detail Tuesday night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, where he was asked about his residency.
Pennsylvania “became home a year ago,” Oz said, noting that he “grew up just across the border, south of Philadelphia.”
He also praised aspects of Trump’s presidency, saying Operation Warp Speed was “a good example of innovation.” When asked about his views on immigration, Oz at one point said: “I think President Trump was right — people should wait on the Mexican side of the border if they’re coming across illegally. Let’s deal with all the issues there.”
With Republican Sen. Pat Toomey not seeking another term, Pennsylvania’s Senate race next year stands as one of the most consequential in determining control of the chamber, which Democrats control with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. It is the only Republican-held seat open next year in a state that President Joe Biden won last year.
Several other prominent Republicans, including Carla Sands, Trump’s former ambassador to Denmark, and Jeff Bartos, the party’s 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, have been running for months. But the trouble surrounding Parnell, who with Trump’s backing had asserted himself as the front-runner, triggered speculation about new candidates, including Oz. David McCormick, the husband of former Trump administration official Dina Powell and the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund based in Westport, Connecticut, also has been mentioned as a prospect.
Democrats have a crowded field, too, led by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Dr. Val Arkoosh, a physician who is the chair of the Montgomery County Commission.
“All around the country, we have more people getting into these races because they’re very comfortable that next year they’re going to win,” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. — who as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, is not endorsing candidates in open races — said Tuesday when he was asked about Oz’s candidacy.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch ally of Trump, said Oz’s announcement was “an exciting moment” for the GOP.
“He’s an incredible American success story,” Graham said Tuesday. “I think he’ll be competitive on Day One. And the Republican Party is growing in the right way.”
No other candidate from either party has Oz’s celebrity profile.
Oprah Winfrey gave Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, his big break on TV, first as a guest on her highly rated daytime talk show and later as a co-producer of “The Dr. Oz Show,” which continues to air in syndication.
Oz emerged as a Trump-friendly media figure during the 2016 campaign, when Trump, the Republican presidential nominee — who was known for sharing minimal details about his health — appeared on Oz’s show to reveal the results of his physical. And because of his appearances on Fox News, Oz was criticized during the early days of the pandemic for promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a treatment for Covid-19. Trump also embraced the drug, which other medical experts had flagged for rare but potentially fatal side effects.
“The reality of our challenges has crystallized during the pandemic,” Oz wrote in his Examiner column. “Covid-19 became an excuse for the government and elite thinkers who controlled the means of communication to suspend debate. Dissenting opinions from leading scholars were ridiculed and canceled so their ideas could not be disseminated.”
“Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary continues to descend into chaos,” Jack Doyle, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said in a statement earlier Tuesday in anticipation of Oz’s kickoff. “It’s clear this GOP Senate primary will get nastier, more expensive — and whichever Republican candidate ultimately limps out of this intra-party fight will be deeply out of step with the Pennsylvania voters who will decide the general election.”