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In a Republican Party still dominated by Donald Trump, candidates who land the former president’s endorsement tend to flout it.
And that’s exactly what Mehmet Oz is doing in Pennsylvania’s crowded, combustible, and expensive GOP Senate primary.
“I endorsed another person today. Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania,” Trump says in a clip from his Saturday evening rally in North Carolina that is seen at the top of a new ad by the Oz campaign.
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“Trump calls Dr. Oz ‘smart, tough and someone who will never let us down.’ Endorsed by Trump. The conservative fighter Pennsylvania needs,” the narrator says in the spot. The Oz campaign told Fox News it plans to spend $1 million to run the ad statewide starting Tuesday.
With just five weeks remaining until Pennsylvania’s May 17 primary, the former president’s endorsement this past weekend of Oz has rocked the race and has seemingly split those in Trump’s political orbit.
Oz, the cardiac surgeon, author and well-known celebrity physician who until the launch of his Senate campaign late last year was host of TV’s popular “Dr. Oz Show,” worked hard to land Trump’s endorsement. But so did Oz’s chief rival in the GOP primary, David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, West Point graduate, Gulf War combat veteran and Treasury Department official in former President George W. Bush’s administration.
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Both McCormick and Oz have connections to Trump, with former top Trump White House and presidential campaign officials endorsing or serving as advisers to both candidates. McCormick has another connection: His wife, Dina Powell McCormick, served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration. McCormick met with Trump at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, last Wednesday to make his case.
But Oz and his wife had dined with Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump a couple of times in recent months and had spoken often. Sources close to Trump world say the former first lady’s perceived preference for Oz may have been one of the deciding factors in Trump’s endorsement of the celebrity doctor.
McCormick and Oz are the two polling front-runners in the primary race and have vastly outspent the other candidates to run ads across the Keystone State, as they fight to win the Republican primary in the battle to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. The eventual Republican nominee will run in a crucial general election contest that’s one of a handful that could determine whether the GOP wins back the Senate majority.
The two candidates have traded fire for months over a host of issues, including who is tougher or softer on China, charges that McCormick outsourced Pennsylvania jobs, Oz’s dual citizenship in Turkey, and most recently, over fracking. And outside groups backing each candidate have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent months to launch attack ads against McCormick and Oz in a race that’s become the most expensive Senate showdown in the country.
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The narrator in Oz’s new ad charges that “Trump endorsed Dr. Oz for Senate because Trump knows who the real conservative is who’s going to shake up Washington. It’s not David McCormick, the liberal, pro-Biden, pro-China, Wall Street Insider.”
McCormick campaign consultant Kristin Davison, responding to the Oz ad, stated that “of course Mehmet Oz needs to continue to hit Dave with lies. Oz’s numbers are so anemic that he is beyond repair. Pennsylvanians have heard in Oz’s own words Oz say he loves working in China, loves Hillary Clinton, doesn’t support fracking, the 2nd Amendment, or the pro-life movement.”
The campaign reinforced their jabs at Oz with a new ad launched Monday in which the narrator charges that Oz is “a complete and total fraud.”
The spot uses old clips of Oz praising Hillary Clinton as “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.” And Oz is also seen complimenting Dr. Anthony Fauci – the chief medical adviser to President Biden and a figure who’s been repeatedly vilified by many conservatives for his words and actions during the coronavirus pandemic – as “a very disciplined leader. He’s a wonderful scientist.”
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Oz is also seen in the McCormick ad saying in old clips that “we need to work with China” and “I love working in China,” as well as asking “how do we keep guns out of the wrong person’s hands?”
McCormick’s team says they’re spending six figures to run the new ad statewide in Pennsylvania. While a pro-McCormick super PAC has repeatedly questioned Oz’s conservative credentials in numerous ads, this is the first negative spot by the McCormick campaign.
But McCormick’s team says the new commercial is not a change of strategy and emphasize that they’ve pointed out on several occasions that Oz is what they characterize as “a Hollywood liberal that has not been truthful about what he believes.”
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Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick, responding to the new McCormick ad, told Fox News that “Dr. Oz has called for Anthony Fauci to be fired over the draconian lockdowns and mandates that hurt so many Pennsylvanians. Hillary Clinton showed herself over time to be one of the most crooked politicians.”
And Yanick claimed that “liberal Wall Street insider David McCormick can’t defend his attacks on President Trump and defense of Communist China so he is resorting to lying about Dr. Oz’s record with these selectively edited clips. Dr. Oz’s show was a successful health platform for 13 seasons where he welcomed open, honest conversations and opinions from everyone who appeared on his show – that does not mean he shares the same beliefs and opinions as everyone on his show.”
McCormick on Tuesday evening teams up with former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at a campaign event in the southeastern part of the state. The former conservative lawmaker and two-time GOP presidential candidate – who remains influential with those on the right in Pennsylvania – last week endorsed McCormick.
Trump’s endorsement of Oz was his second in the race. But the candidate the former president backed last year, Sean Parnell, ended his bid in November immediately after he lost a bitter fight for custody of his three children to his estranged wife, who in court testimony had accused Parnell of abuse. Parnell, an Army veteran who saw combat in the Afghanistan War, endorsed McCormick in January, as first reported by Fox News.
Parnell, responding to Trump’s endorsement of Oz, tweeted, “I have enormous respect for President Trump. I was honored to have his endorsement in PA. Twice But I’m disappointed by this. Oz is the antithesis of everything that made Trump the best president of my lifetime – he’s the farthest thing from America First & he’d be very bad for PA.”
A big question going forward is whether Trump will hold a rally with Oz in Pennsylvania ahead of the May 17 primary. A spokesman for the former president had no comment for Fox News regarding any upcoming potential Keystone State events.
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McCormick and Oz are part of a GOP field of eight contenders that also includes Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer, philanthropist and 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor; veteran and conservative political commentator Kathy Barnette; and Carla Sands, a real estate executive and major Republican donor who served as ambassador to Denmark during the Trump administration.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is the polling front-runner in the Democratic Senate primary, in a race that also includes Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.