Oz’s first television ad, a 60-second spot, mentions the name of the state once, three-quarters of the way through. It comes in a generic reference, where he sounds more than a bit like former president Donald Trump: “Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first, one who could reignite our divine spark.”
Pennsylvania and its concerns don’t appear at all on the “Why I’m running” page of his campaign website, except in abbreviated form at the bottom, where you find the address of the Huntingdon Valley headquarters to which his fans and supporters can send their checks.
If he manages to win in a crowded Republican primary field and then prevail in the general election, what might Oz do in Washington to address the specific needs of the Keystone State? He doesn’t offer any clues.
He emphasizes his background as a physician instead and suggests his medical skills are transferable to government. “Today, America’s heartbeat is in a code red in need of a defibrillator to shock it back to life,” he claims.
Uh, okay. Oz apparently hasn’t taken a look at the sclerotic manner with which things happen, when they do happen, in the Senate. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a heart specialist might look askance at bringing home some bacon, which is a traditional parochial imperative for Washington lawmakers.
There is little evidence he is even more than casually acquainted with the state. Oz obtained his medical and MBA degrees at the University of Pennsylvania more than three decades ago. But he was born in Ohio and grew up mostly in Delaware. He has spent much of his adult life in New Jersey, where he has a 9,000-square-foot mansion, though his website now claims he lives in Bryn Athyn, an affluent borough north of Philadelphia. The Associated Press reported he began voting in Pennsylvania elections this year by absentee ballot, registered to his in-laws’ address.
Of course, Oz is far from the first audaciously carpetbagging candidate. Most notable in recent history was then-first lady Hillary Clinton, a Chicago native who ran in 2000 for Senate — and handily won — in New York, a state where she had never lived. She endured much mockery of her apparently newfound love for the New York Yankees.
Clinton, aware of her liabilities, approached the Senate race with a 1999 pre-announcement “listening tour” across the state, where she demonstrated her mastery of its local political rhythms by picking fights with her husband’s administration over the effects that its Medicare policies had on New York teaching hospitals and demanded more generous price supports for New York dairy farmers.
A further factor Oz must take into account is that Pennsylvania is a swing state, one that Trump won in 2016 and then lost four years later, both times narrowly.
One good model in 2022 might be the balancing act that worked so well for another first-time politician, Republican Glenn Youngkin, in last month’s gubernatorial election in blue-trending Virginia. While Youngkin capitalized on President Biden’s sinking poll numbers and indulged the Trumpian base on its conspiracy theories about election fraud and unfounded fears of critical race theory, he managed to avoid alienating more moderate voters by keeping his own positions tightly focused on Virginia.
The medical bona fides upon which Oz built a media and financial empire will certainly get a scuffing now that he has entered politics, a stage upon which the spotlight accentuates every flaw.
Both eloquent and relatable, he began developing a following back in 2004 as a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” then starred in his own syndicated series.
But Oz has also come under fire as something of a medicine-show celebriquack. His previous experience in the Senate, as Politico noted, includes being hauled in to testify in 2014 before the Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee, where “America’s doctor,” as Oprah Winfrey dubbed him, was grilled over his apparent on-air endorsements of sketchy weight-loss products. At one point, then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told him: “The scientific community is almost monolithic against you.”
Oz has now offered himself as a prescription for what ails politics. Count me as skeptical that Pennsylvania voters will buy the idea that he is the cure they are looking for.