Dr. Mehmet Oz, best known as the television personality "Dr. Oz," endorsed lockdowns and complimented China’s strategy for defeating the coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic — seemingly harmless remarks for a prominent doctor to make when so little was known about the disease.

Nearly two years later, those comments stand to haunt Oz as he seeks the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, a state with a blue-collar conservative base loyal to former President Donald Trump. These crucial voters are suspicious of Beijing and have chaffed under business closures and other coronavirus restrictions.

“It’s potentially not a little problem — but a serious problem,” said Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Millersville University, 75 miles west of Philadelphia. “But what really matters is what the voters ultimately care about.”

Oz, 61, announced his campaign for Senate five days after Thanksgiving with a glitzy campaign video and an op-ed in the Washington Examiner. The wealthy heart surgeon and media personality, who hosts his own, nationally syndicated television show, is vowing to pour millions of his fortune into his primary campaign and begins the race with encouraging personal favorability ratings among key Pennsylvania voting blocs. But as a front-runner, Oz is facing fresh scrutiny.


That is especially true regarding Oz’s past and present positions on the coronavirus and the government's response to the pandemic, issues the Republican has placed at the center of his nascent 2022 campaign. On Tuesday, the Oz campaign said he always supported Trump’s actions to extinguish COVID-19 and emphasized that his approach to combating the pandemic changed as more was learned about the disease, China’s response, and the negative impact of lockdowns.

In a statement provided to the Washington Examiner, Oz said he opposed government-mandated closures of businesses and schools and had harsh words for Beijing.

“China lied to the world about COVID-19, what they were doing, what was working to contain the virus, and where it originated, and they should be held accountable for those lies,” Oz said. "I am opposed to shutdowns and lockdowns. I am for getting businesses open and students fully in the classroom.”

“Unlike most of our government leaders, I understand the truth and data,” he added. “Special interest groups have tried to keep schools and America closed, and I’ll speak out about these misguided decisions and put our businesses, our schools, and our communities first.”

Oz’s views on the coronavirus and the government’s response from before he was a politician are the latest aspects of his background to come under fire from Republican competitors and skeptics, not least of which is the fact that he only recently moved to Pennsylvania from New Jersey, sparking cries of “carpetbagger” from some GOP insiders in the Keystone State.

Here is Oz in an NBC News television interview on March 17, 2020, unearthed by a GOP operative advising another Pennsylvania Senate contender, in which he expresses support for lockdowns and praises China:

“…The Chinese numbers have dropped dramatically, which is fantastic news, and it’s also valuable for us to understand why they were able to do that. If you look inside of Wuhan province, they had a catastrophe. But outside the province — which, of course, they quarantined the largest movement of its nature ever — 60 million people blocked in that space, but the rest of the country was relatively spared. They didn’t have the big spikes, the huge crises that Wuhan experienced, and it took the country to a very different direction. We just have to copy what they did, take their blueprint and repeat it here in this country … I think a week from now we’ll start to see the benefits of what many would call draconian actions, shutting down all public gatherings…"


The race for the Republican nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania was scrambled late last month when Sean Parnell, who was endorsed by Trump, exited the contest to deal with family matters. Since then, Oz has jumped in, and hedge fund manager David McCormick is poised to do the same. His entry would round out the GOP primary field at five candidates.