With polls showing the GOP Pennsylvania Senate fight in a virtual three-way tie in the campaign's waning days ahead of Tuesday's primary, Dr. Mehmet Oz said he’s optimistic about winning.
The battle for the Republican nomination has been heated from the start, with candidates pouring money into what has become one of the most expensive primary races in the country. For both parties, the stakes of the Pennsylvania Senate race couldn't be higher. With GOP Sen. Pat Toomey retiring after 12 years in the Senate, Pennsylvania is a linchpin in Republican and Democratic plans to claim a majority in the 2022 midterm elections. Democrats currently have a Senate majority in the 50-50 chamber, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris's tiebreaking vote.
On the Republican side, Oz has an important piece of campaign ammunition — an endorsement by former President Donald Trump. But that has hardly clinched a win for the longtime television personality. Conservative activist Kathy Barnette’s late rise in the polls has added an unexpected twist in what for months seemed like a two-way race between Oz and former hedge fund executive David McCormick.
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“I think it's going to be close. I'll win, and it's going to be very tight between me and McCormick," Oz said about his chief rival, a former Bridgewater CEO.
"I will maintain the lead that I have," Oz told the Washington Examiner. "A lot of these numbers are becoming pretty rigid, even though there are a lot of undecideds — I bet you a lot of undecideds don't vote because they can't decide. It's not that they're undecided. They can't decide."
Oz added that he isn’t concerned about Barnette’s rapid rise.
“I must say, McCormick and well-vetted. Kathy Barnette is not there every time I look. There's something extra I find about her that's very concerning,” he said.
Recent days have brought a slew of negative stories about Barnette, such as her refusal to concede her loss in a 2020 House race in which Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) crushed her 60%-40% and a series of tweets implying former President Barack Obama was a secret Muslim. Barnette's critics contend that with Pennsylvania being an almost evenly divided state politically, she would turn off a lot of general-election voters and ensure a victory for the likely Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Trump recently held a rally for Oz in an effort to boost support and has repeatedly taken aim at the other high-profile candidates despite their efforts to link themselves to him as part of their campaign strategies.
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“Trump endorsements are very important, and it's critical to the voters of Pennsylvania," Oz said. "It opens their minds up to opportunities. It gets them to think differently about the race because they say, 'OK, well, you know, now that I've got an endorsed candidate I trust that the president says he's pro-life. Trump says he's pro-Second Amendment.' By the way, the NRA gave me their highest grade for unelected candidates, so I think those are fair narratives.”
Oz added that in addition to Trump’s support, he thinks his television background has prepared him for life on the campaign trail, providing an edge in name recognition and prepping him to navigate the attacks he has faced since jumping in the race.
“He [Trump] wants to win, a candidate that knows how to battle on a big stage, and I've been fighting on the platform of national television quite aggressively for years," Oz said. "I've got scars to prove it — I've taken on Big Tech, agricultural companies, big pharma companies to get on the U.S. government. I cannot be bought."
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Oz’s opponents have gone after him on a host of issues, with his rivals in recent weeks recently taking aim at his Turkish dual citizenship. But he dismissed the criticisms as a “bigoted” attempt to distract from more substantive policy issues, adding that it isn’t a problem that voters have brought up to him.
“It's the classic kind of a bigoted attack that just is, I think, it's a bomb thrown out there to distract people from what the candidate is really trying to say,” he said.
“I'm only maintaining that citizenship to help my mom because she has Alzheimer's and in Turkey with all of our support staff. It helps me deal with litigation and other issues to support her there," Oz said. "I can love my mother and love my country, America, at the same time. The vast majority of voters get that they don't care about that issue. So I'm only bothered by it because it takes some time, like we are right now, talking about it when there are much more important issues like energy policy driving inflation or mistakes we made with COVID.”
While all candidates vying for the GOP nomination have launched attacks on one another during the course of the race, Oz said that he and his rivals have tried to shift their focus to their policy platforms in the final stretch.
"If you get towards the end of the campaign, people already know who you are. You can try to paint me with negative ads — they've spent $35 million doing that. And then people have liked me for being on television and being in their homes every day for 13 years, so there's a tug of war,” he said.
Oz added: “But at some point, you don't change it that much. So to get locked into where you are — and people are going to trust what's historically been true in the last few months with negative ads, and that will break down to different candidates. Obviously, I've defended myself. Part of the last-minute effort is to paint yourself in the right picture, tell people who you really are.”