“Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first, one who could reignite our divine spark,” Oz said in a video, echoing a familiar phrase of former president Donald Trump.
In a statement published in the Washington Examiner, Oz paid deference to Trump and criticized “elites” and others who he said had “squashed” great ideas during the coronavirus pandemic. Oz, who attended Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, also boasted that he had “fought the establishment” throughout his career. Outside of the headline on the statement, he made little mention of Pennsylvania or issues specific to the state.
Later on Tuesday, in an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” Oz said he is focused on energy independence, capitalism, lower taxes and the Constitution.
“Any government that’s large enough to give you everything is powerful enough to take it all away,” Oz said. “So, I don’t want that. I want liberty and freedom, and that to me means limited government. We can do it better than folks very far away from us that don’t know our local problems.”
Oz, 61, joins a crowded field vying to fill the seat of Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring at the end of his term next year. Oz’s announcement comes a little more than a week after Republican Sean Parnell, who had been endorsed by Trump, decided to end his campaign, leaving the GOP primary with no clear front-runner.
Parnell made his decision after it was made public that a judge had granted his estranged wife primary custody of the couple’s three children, ruling that her claims of domestic abuse against Parnell were credible.
Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon and television personality who gained prominence in the 2000s for his regular appearances with Oprah Winfrey, who called him “America’s doctor.” On Winfrey’s talk show and later as host of his own show, Oz dispensed health and wellness advice, especially “miracle” diet products — much of which was criticized for being junk science.
In 2014, a British Medical Journal study found that half of Oz’s medical advice was baseless or wrong. The same year, Oz was grilled in Congress for promoting “miraculous” weight-loss programs that were shams, though Oz claimed they were safe and effective. In 2015, 10 of Oz’s colleagues called for him to be dismissed from Columbia University’s medical school for having “repeatedly shown disdain for science and evidence-based medicine” and “promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”
Oz has come under further scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic, when he touted questionable treatments for covid-19, despite not specializing in infectious disease. He initially suggested hydroxychloroquine as a possible covid-19 cure on Fox News, before changing his mind. He also faced backlash for suggesting last April — also on Fox News — that reopening schools “may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality,” which was “a trade-off some folks would consider.” He later said he had “misspoke.”
In his campaign video Tuesday, Oz cast the coronavirus response as a matter of individual rights. “Covid has shown us that our system is broken. We lost too many lives, too many jobs and too many opportunities because Washington got it wrong. They took away our freedom without making us safer,” he said.
Despite his long history as a public figure and as a medical doctor, Oz is a political newcomer. It is unclear whether he fulfills the residency requirement to run for Senate in Pennsylvania. Oz and his family have made their longtime home in Cliffside Park, N.J. He reportedly has been searching for a home in the Philadelphia suburbs, according to Politico.
In a sarcastic tweet Tuesday, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) made reference to Oz not living in the state he wanted to represent.
“I want to congratulate my North Jersey constituent Dr. Oz on his run for US Senate in Pennsylvania,” Pascrell wrote. “I’m sure this fully genuine candidacy will capture the hearts of Pennsylvanians.”
Oz’s entrance into the race further upends a Republican primary that includes Carla Sands, a former U.S. ambassador to Denmark who has given her campaign more than $3 million, and businessman Jeff Bartos, who has loaned his campaign $1.2 million.
David McCormick, a former Treasury Department official who now runs the Bridgewater hedge fund, has also been approached about joining the race. McCormick and his wife, former Trump deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, recently had dinner with Trump, according to people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
President Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020, making the battleground state one of the better opportunities for Democrats to pick up a Senate seat in 2022. The nomination on the Democratic side of the race is also up in the air, with two major candidates offering starkly different choices.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a former mayor of Braddock, Pa., was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 Democratic primary and received Sanders’s endorsement in his last statewide race. Marine veteran and congressman Conor Lamb, by contrast, is a member of the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus and has received plaudits from Biden, who compared him to his late son Beau Biden in temperament during his first congressional race.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Tuesday blasted Oz’s announcement as evidence the Pennsylvania GOP was in “chaos,” suggesting Oz was unqualified and untested.
“The GOP will find Oz is no miracle cure for their mounting problems in this primary,” the group said in a statement.
Michael Scherer contributed to this report.