Dr. Oz for US Senate? Hard Pass
Longtime New Jersey Resident and Celebrity Doctor Mehmet Oz is Running for US Senate in Pennsylvania. Republicans Are Likely to Look Elsewhere
Television celebrity Doctor Mehmet Oz announced this week unconventionally that he’s running for US Senate in Pennsylvania, where incumbent Republican Pat Toomey is retiring. It’s a wide-open race with multiple candidates in both parties. Hedge fund CEO David McCormick, a southwest Pennsylvania native, Bush 43 Treasury official, and Gulf War veteran quickly followed the Oz announcement with stories of his own impending candidacy.
It’s pretty clear from the initial media reaction to Oz’s announcement that he’s not clearing the Republican field. Donald Trump’s former Pennsylvania state chair and campaign advisor, David Urban, reportedly is helping McCormick. US Rep. Dan Meuser tweeted yesterday about his excitement over a McCormick candidacy.
Spouses are a factor here. Dr. Oz met his wife at the University of Pennsylvania and is a Keystone State native. Egyptian-born Dina Powell McCormick was a highly-visible White House national security official in the Bush and Trump Administrations, and a senior Goldman Sachs executive.
One important industry in Pennsylvania from which Oz is highly unlikely to find support is food and agriculture, a major player in the state’s economy and politics. Oz has made attacking genetically modified foods, which are found in about 70 percent of the food supply, a feature of his television show (even more so than blue wine). He’s attacked agriculture practices, including the safe use of pesticides (GMO’s actually reduce pesticide use and greenhouse gases). He’s called for mandatory food labeling for GMOs, which now is the law. Yet, on Sean Hannity’s show Tuesday night, he called for a limited government with more freedom and liberty.
In 2011, Oz jumped on a report challenged by the Food and Drug Administration that apples have unacceptable levels of arsenic. Fruit growers and processors in Pennsylvania have long memories.
Health and medicine is a major driver of Pennsylvania’s economy. Southeast Pennsylvania, where I lived for 18 years, is home to some of the nation’s top hospitals and medical schools, including where Dr. Oz earned his medical and MBA degrees, the University of Pennsylvania. “Eds and Meds” refer to the litany of legendary universities, colleges, and medical facilities in the Philadelphia region. Yet ten physicians at Columbia University Medical School, where Oz teaches, called for his dismissal over “outrageous conflicts of interest” and misleading and endangering the public.
He’s been accused of hawking “quack” treatments for weight loss and stress relief, including communicating with the dead. I wonder if he’s sought any advice from, say, Richard Nixon on a potential Senate candidacy? That would make an interesting debate question. I’d love to hear the answer. And he invites other notorious quacks like “Health Ranger” Mike Adams on his show. Mijn God.
I’ll say this for Dr. Oz. He has some experience with the U. S. Senate. He testified there in 2014 before a Senate subcommittee. He had no idea that he was actually the target of the hearing, scolded for his miracle weight-loss claims.
Television's popular physician Dr. Mehmet Oz was harshly criticized by a skeptical Senate panel today over his claims that certain weight loss products can be "miracles" and "lightning in a bottle," forcing Oz to defend himself as a "cheerleader" for people trying to lose weight.
Oz appeared before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that was looking into a "crisis in consumer protection," and he quickly became a target.
Some of the claims Oz has made on his television show - and the products he has touted - have come under scrutiny before and today committee chairwoman Sen. Claire McCaskill asked Oz, "Why when you have this amazing megaphone and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?"
While it is easy to find Oz detractors, overt supporters, other than the homebound who watch his afternoon television show, are a little hard to come by. Oz voted in Pennsylvania in 2020 for the first time. He reportedly has a new home in the tony Montgomery County (suburban Philly) town of Bryn Athyn.
But give Oz his due. His personal story is compelling. He is an accomplished cardiothoracic physician, as was former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). He is poised, smart, articulate, telegenic, and polished. And his television experience may prove as helpful to his candidacy as it did for his friend Donald Trump (who appeared on his show in 2016) and Ronald Reagan.
Pennsylvania’s GOP establishment has its flaws, but I remember a few things about my nearly two decades as a non-native resident there: they don’t much take to outsiders, but are especially suspicious of newcomers who seek political office. In Washington, DC, people get acquainted by asking what they do for a living. In parts of Pennsylvania, it is “are you a native Pennsylvanian?” If you answer no, don’t be surprised if they suddenly disappear. It’s happened to me. Your college credentials matter in some places; in PA, it is family and high school, maybe a parish.
As I was told years ago, people don’t move to Pennsylvania; they move back to Pennsylvania.
Oz is not to be underestimated. He may have no natural political network or support in the state, but he is clearly connected, and will have all the financial “support” he needs. He has a good message for the GOP primary. He will need to become more knowledgeable and articulate on a variety of local and state concerns, especially energy (fracking is big), transportation (rail and trucking industries are huge), and especially manufacturing. He could distinguish himself on the nation’s and the state’s Covid response, but economic concerns, as was the case in Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial election, will take center stage. The Commonwealth may be home to dozens of colleges and universities, but “kitchen table” issues of concern to the state’s large and increasingly Republican “blue-collar” population will be key.
Relatability and approachability will be essential for any winning candidate. Sean Parnell had it, but his family issues forced him to depart the race. We’ll see how well Oz plays in places like Johnstown, Marcus Hook, and Latrobe. He’d better know who “Big Ben,” Sidney Crosby, and Bryce Harper are. It will be interesting to watch him at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January. And he’d better ooh and ahh at the butter sculpture. Perhaps he won’t mind that blintzes and Elephant ears are made with GMOs, or that Pennsylvania wine makers don’t make blue wine. Some knowledge of the Commonwealth’s Civil War history would be valuable.
With a large field that includes other strong candidates, such as businessman and 2018 Lt. Gov. candidate Jeff Bartos, former Ambassador Carla Sands (Denmark, Trump Administration), and former congressional candidate Kathy Barnett, an impressive and articulate African American businesswoman, and McCormick, maybe others, the threshold for victory might only be about 25 percent of the vote. But those 25 percent will be hard to get.
Trump, who carried Pennsylvania in 2016, is an 800-pound gorilla in the GOP primary. But with Oz, Sands, and McCormick in the race - all with strong Trump and other GOP connections, he’s highly unlikely to endorse one candidate. Regardless, it is hard for this observer to see Oz gaining traction in the Keystone State. Detractors are likely to outnumber supporters.