politics

Dr. Oz Will Run for Pennsylvania's Open Senate Seat as a Republican

Mehmet Oz
Roy Rochlin | Getty Images
  • Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz will run for Senate as a Republican in Pennsylvania, he announced Tuesday.
  • The television personality, who has faced criticism over the years for promoting unproven or alternative medicine, criticized the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in announcing his candidacy.
  • Oz has lived in New Jersey for two decades, according to the Associated Press, while his campaign says he lives in Pennsylvania.

Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz will run for Senate as a Republican in Pennsylvania next year, adding intrigue to one of the races that will determine control of the chamber.

The 61-year-old host of "The Dr. Oz Show" will enter a crowded swing-state race where no clear frontrunner has emerged on the GOP side. Oz, who has never held elected office, will try to leverage his name recognition and wealth in the bid to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

The television personality announced his candidacy in an op-ed in the conservative Washington Examiner on Tuesday. In it, Oz — who has faced criticism for promoting unproven or alternative medicine over the years — promoted himself as a steady hand to combat the coronavirus pandemic as he criticized policymakers' handling of the crisis.

"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," he wrote.

To win back control of a Senate split 50-50 by party, the GOP may need to defend Toomey's seat in the battleground state. Pennsylvania backed President Joe Biden by a 1.2 percentage point margin to help to send him to the White House last year. The political environment in 2022 will likely be more favorable to Republicans.

The GOP primary is considered wide open after Trump-backed candidate Sean Parnell dropped out of the race after he lost custody of his children amid allegations of domestic abuse. While it is unclear who former President Donald Trump will endorse now, he has gravitated toward television personalities in the past and even appointed Oz to his sports, fitness and nutrition council in 2018.

Democrats hope competition in a messy Republican primary — including pressure to embrace election conspiracy theories promoted by Trump — will leave the eventual GOP candidate weakened in a general election race. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta are among the Democrats running for the seat.

"The influx of unqualified, untested and wealthy Republican candidates in this race will intensify the viciousness of their intra-party fight and leave their ultimate nominee badly out of step with Pennsylvania's general election voters," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Patrick Burgwinkle said in a statement Tuesday. "The GOP will find Oz is no miracle cure for their mounting problems in this primary."

Oz has lived in New Jersey for two decades but started to vote in Pennsylvania after registering at his in-laws' address this year, according to the Associated Press. The wire service reported he voted by absentee ballot in the Keystone State — a method many Republicans have tried to limit since Trump tied it to baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

In a tweet, Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., foreshadowed the criticism Oz could face over his New Jersey residence. Pascrell represents Cliffside Park, N.J., where Oz's family built a mansion two decades ago, according to multiple media reports.

"I want to congratulate my North Jersey constituent Dr. Oz on his run for US Senate in Pennsylvania. I'm sure this fully genuine candidacy will capture the hearts of Pennsylvanians," the congressman wrote in a sarcastic jab.

In a statement Tuesday, Oz campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine said the TV personality "lives in Pennsylvania, votes in Pennsylvania, and has his medical license in Pennsylvania." She added that Oz "currently resides in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, where his wife's family has lived for a hundred years." Bryn Athyn is a suburb outside of Philadelphia.

The campaign did not immediately answer questions about whether Oz lives with his wife's family or in his own residence in Pennsylvania, or about how long he has lived in the state.

Oz, a heart surgeon, rose to prominence as a guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in the 2000s. In 2009, he landed his own health-themed show, which is still running.

Oz has amassed a large following during his time in the public eye. Even so, his embrace of unproven health products and practices has repeatedly sparked backlash.

In 2014, he went before a Senate committee to face scrutiny about diet pills he promoted as a rapid weight-loss method. Lawmakers from both parties hammered him for what they called deceptive and false claims about the products' efficacy.

Oz said "I personally believe" in the products he promotes on the show, but added that "I recognize that oftentimes they don't have the scientific muster to pass as fact."

Criticism of Oz's claims has continued during the pandemic. Early on in the crisis, he championed hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug promoted by Trump and Fox News personalities as a Covid-19 treatment. By late April 2020, he said it was unclear if the drug worked as a coronavirus treatment.

The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients in March 2020. It revoked it in June 2020.

Also in April 2020, he suggested the U.S. could reopen schools, citing an article in a medical journal that indicated school closures would prevent only 2% to 4% of deaths from the virus, according to The New York Times. He told Fox News "it might be a tradeoff some folks would consider."

Oz later said he "misspoke."

In his op-ed announcing his candidacy Tuesday, Oz argued that during the coronavirus pandemic, "dissenting opinions from leading scholars were ridiculed and canceled so their ideas could not be disseminated." He did not specify which ideas he thought were quashed.

The multimillionaire also used populist rhetoric as he took aim at lockdown policies employed to slow the virus' spread last year.

"Elites with yards told those without yards to stay inside, where the virus was more likely to spread. And the arrogant, closed-minded people in charge closed our parks, shuttered our schools, shut down our businesses, and took away our freedom," he wrote.

More than 778,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S. to date, according to CDC data.

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