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Trump endorses Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania Senate race, a key battleground

The former president wades into a closely watched contest.

Mehmet Oz, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, speaks during a town hall campaign event at Arcaro and Genell in Old Forge, Pa., on Jan. 19, 2022. (Christopher Dolan/AP)
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Former president Donald Trump on Saturday jumped into a high-stakes intraparty contest, endorsing fellow television celebrity-turned-politician Mehmet Oz in the contested Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, where the leading candidates jockeyed aggressively for Trump’s support.

Trump issued a statement announcing the endorsement just as he was beginning his remarks at an evening rally in North Carolina, where he promoted his support for Oz and referenced their shared history as television stars.

“By the way, I endorsed another person today — Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania," Trump told the crowd. "Dr. Oz. Great guy, good man. He’s a good man. Harvard educated, tremendous, tremendous career and they liked him for a long time. That’s like a poll. You know, when you’re in television for 18 years, that’s like a poll, that means people like you.”

Joining Trump at his rally were several North Carolina congressional candidates, including Rep. Ted Budd, who is running in a crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate and Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who has faced criticism from GOP colleagues, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Trump’s endorsement of Oz marks his second try in the Pennsylvania race. He previously endorsed Republican Sean Parnell, who ended his campaign last year amid allegations of domestic abuse. In a meandering written statement Trump issued just as he was starting his remarks in North Carolina, he referenced Oz’s television show and said he felt Oz was the most electable candidate.

“This is all about winning elections in order to stop the Radical Left maniacs from destroying our Country,” Trump said in that statement.

Trump’s Saturday comments plunged him deeper into the midterm landscape and reflected his interest in leaving a mark on contested Republican primaries. Some in the GOP have grown nervous about Trump’s presence in the primaries, worrying he will help elevate less electable candidates.

Senate Democratic operatives are seeking to tie Trump to Republican candidates, wagering that his support could turn off swing voters and shift attention away from President Biden’s low approval ratings.

More than 10 months after leaving office, former president Donald Trump maintains a powerful hold over the Republican Party. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

The Pennsylvania endorsement marked Trump’s entrance into a race that both parties see as a critical front in the fight for the Senate majority. The chamber is currently split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Harris empowered to break ties, giving Democrats the narrowest majority.

Trump had previously hinted at his preference for Oz, but David McCormick, a hedge fund manager who is also a top contender in the May 17 Pennsylvania race, was spotted at Mar-a-Lago only a few days ago seeking Trump’s endorsement.

The Senate race in Pennsylvania to replace retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey is expected to be one of the most expensive and closely-watched elections this year. Democrats are in the midst of their own crowded primary, with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb among the candidates.

Pennsylvania is a longtime swing state, frequently flipping back and forth between Democratic and Republican candidates in statewide elections. Trump’s narrow 2016 win there was the first for a GOP presidential nominee since 1988. Biden, who was born in Scranton, Pa., won it in 2020.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee swiftly pounced on the Trump endorsement of Oz.

“The Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania was already nasty, expensive and brutal," said DSCC spokesperson Patrick Burgwinkle in a statement. "Now Trump’s endorsement will only intensify this intra-party fight, just like it has in GOP Senate primaries across the country — leaving their ultimate nominee badly damaged and out of step with the voters who will decide the general election.”

In a signal of how eager Democrats are to bring up Trump, DSCC spokeswoman Nora Keefe issued a second statement soon after that claiming that the former president “continues to create chaos in Senate GOP primaries across the map.”

In Trump’s statement, he added that Oz had said he was in “extraordinary health, which made me like him even more (although he also said I should lose a couple of pounds!).” He also stated, without any specific evidence for his claim, that “women, in particular, are drawn to Dr. Oz for his advice and counsel. I have seen this many times over the years.”

In addition to Oz and Budd, Trump has doled out other high-profile endorsements in competitive GOP primaries, including former senator David Perdue, who is challenging Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp refused to support Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the state’s 2020 presidential results had been rigged against him. Trump repeated his false claims about the last election at his rally on Saturday night.

Trump was vocal in his support for Cawthorn, who has alienated some in his party with his fringe conspiracy theories and incendiary comments, such as claiming he’d seen his GOP colleagues do cocaine and had been invited to orgies with them.

“A man, I love him, because he’s never controversial. There’s no controversy," Trump said of Cawthorn, apparently speaking sarcastically. “But you know what? He loves this country, he loves this state and I’ll tell you, he is respected all over the place."

Trump’s rally speech contained his typical fare, falsely claiming over and over that he’d won the 2020 election and flirting with running again in 2024. He warned of the United States’ demise under the Democrats and made several anti-transgender comments, piggybacking on laws GOP lawmakers have spearheaded in states that restrict rights of transgender children.

No teacher should ever be allowed to teach far left gender theories to our children without parental consent,” Trump said. “It’s truly child abuse, plain and simple.”

Trump mocked his political foes and offered a grim outlook for America, touching on hot button issues among his base, including immigration, crime and gas prices. Republicans hope these topics will help them win back control of Congress in 2022, but some worry that Trump’s repeated comments about the 2020 election could distract from that aim.