Mehmet Oz campaigns in Pennsylvania Senate race as David McCormick airs TV ads against him

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Mehmet Oz leapt into a suburban Philadelphia banquet hall, arms raised like Rocky as the crowd rose.

“Do we want a dose of reality today?” asked the famed surgeon known as “Dr. Oz. It could easily have been a studio audience who responded, “Yeah!”

“Okay, let’s sit down and talk about all this!”

The veteran showman is accustomed to conducting public conversations. After making a name for himself on daytime television, Oz’s public profile and wealth helped America’s most famous cardiothoracic surgeon take the lead in Pennsylvania’s crucial Republican Senate primary — a bit like another wealthy celebrity who burst into GOP politics not too long ago.

But now his chief Republican rival has turned the airwaves in Pennsylvania against Oz, pounding him with a gold-plated political hammer. Former hedge fund executive David McCormick and his wealthy allies exploited Oz’s very public past to question his conservative credentials and portray him as a Hollywood elitist.

A nearly $8 million publicity barrage — including nearly $6 million in February — lambasted Oz on issues including gun and abortion laws. And it had an impact, increasing negative perceptions of the TV star and, according to a public poll, putting McCormick ahead after Oz started as the undisputed leader.

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Oz responds with a series of public events, supplementing its own heavy TV spending with in-person performances aimed at addressing doubters head-on, with a touch of star power. In these showcases, Oz argues that after years of wrestling with conventional wisdom about medicine and science (albeit with sometimes misleading medical opinion), he has a tough skin to absorb the criticism of powerful critics.

“I’m not trying to be aggressive or abrasive. I’m not deliberately picking a fight, but I’m a porcupine. And I will confidently say what I think needs to be said,” Oz, in a charcoal suit and open shirt, told the crowd. last week in West Chester. “I didn’t decide to campaign because I thought it would be a fun ride.”

Attacks are not a ride.

Oz — who says he invested $10 million of his own money in the campaign — bought $8.4 million in airtime through Saturday, the most of any Senate candidate nationwide, according to AdImpact, that tracks political advertising. But McCormick and his allies beat him to it.

McCormick’s campaign spent nearly $6.4 million on run ads this week, although he joined the race more than a month later. And the super PAC that backs it, Honor Pennsylvania, dumped $7.7 million in attack TV ads, the most any entity has spent so far on a single Senate race, as part of of a $12 million plan. A pro-Oz super PAC only spent $1.2 million.

In total, McCormick and Friends outsold Oz and Friends on television by almost 50%.

» READ MORE: The Pennsylvania Senate race for money in 8 charts

The result: A Fox News poll released Tuesday found McCormick with the support of 24% of Republican primary voters in Pennsylvania, compared to 15% for Oz. No other candidate exceeded 9%. It’s a stark reversal from just a few months ago and mirrors what GOP insiders say they’ve seen in private investigations.

“As Dave McCormick’s momentum continues to grow, Mehmet Oz is being voted out by conservatives in Pennsylvania because they see the fraud in his candidacy,” McCormick spokesman Jess Szymanski said.

McCormick’s team nearly fell for joy when Oz was photographed on his hands last month and the knees kissing his newly baptized star on a red carpet on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The photo features in a recent super PAC attack ad calling Oz “liberal Hollywood.”

“Oz has 2,000 hours of television that belies the message he’s trying to get across,” said Jim Schultz, an adviser to McCormick.

The Oz campaign says crowds are coming to see it in the hundreds, including stops on Tuesday at Blue Bell and Glen Mills and last week in northwestern Pennsylvania, Hershey and West Chester. The campaign argues that when people see Oz in person, he wins them over.

“Not everyone who attends a Dr. Oz event walks out the door voting for him, but the vast majority leave going all-in,” Oz spokeswoman Brittany Yanick said.

A bright spot for Oz in the Fox poll: his supporters were much more firmly attached to him than those of McCormick. The poll also found a large number of undecided voters, leaving room for the race to change.

McCormick and Oz are the two leading Republicans in the race to replace Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who is not seeking re-election. The race is among the most crucial in the country, one of the few likely to decide which party controls the Senate. And it is already by far the most expensive.

Oz channels former President Donald Trump in many ways, but with a softer twist. Despite his wealth, success and a television career launched by Oprah, he presents himself as someone who has fought the establishment – be it the government, the media or the medical community.

“Any time The New York Times writes a negative story about me, it’s a badge of honor,” he said in West Chester, where the reading list included a Trump staple: “Proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood.

He says he would focus in Washington on health care, education — especially school choice — and foreign policy.

The real fight is likely still imminent, as the May 17 primary approaches. Republicans wonder how much Oz will spend to fight back – and wonder if he can keep pace with McCormick, who until recently ran the world’s largest hedge fund, is married to a Goldman Sachs executive and whose wealthy friends pay millions to slam Oz.

READ MORE: David McCormick’s longstanding praise for China and trade could bite his Pa Senate run.

McCormick has its own vulnerabilities, including its former hedge fund’s investments in China, and the race is still in its early stages. But several Republicans have warned that Oz’s responses could become less effective if McCormick’s team destroys its credibility first.

If Oz and McCormick bump into each other, it could also open a door for other candidates – like Carla Sands, Jeff Bartos or Kathy Barnette. But none of them can compete financially.

Before each of his public events, the Oz team sends text messages and phone calls to Republican voters in the area, gathering hundreds of people to come see him shoot a few people. crowd, check their blood pressure and answer questions.

Several people at the West Chester event, some of whom had clearly seen the attack adverts, said he had disarmed their skepticism.

“I wanted to see if he was really a RINO,” said Anne Emerson, 58, of West Chester, referring to the phrase “Republican in name only,” as he was dubbed by McCormick’s super PAC. “I think he did a good job. He seemed real, he seemed sincere.

Emerson wants to elect a “true America First conservative.” She said Oz “reminded me of Trump.”

“Family values, it doesn’t come from politics,” she said. “He has no skin in the game.”

It’s a parallel that Oz is eager to draw, often describing himself as an “outsider”. He talks about his friendship with Trump, while his campaign likens McCormick to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: the 2016 insider pick that failed with GOP voters.

Even some Republicans who don’t support Oz have described being impressed with his attentiveness and willingness to answer questions in private meetings.

“He’s a very gregarious guy, he’s an entertainer,” said Rob Gleason, a former state GOP chairman who supports McCormick. But he added that Oz’s positions put him out of step with Republican primary voters.

For example, Oz has in the past been open to “red flag laws,” which allow judges to remove firearms from people who family members or friends believe pose a risk to themselves or others. It’s an idea that Trump embraced in 2019.

When asked about the Second Amendment this month, Oz told conservative radio host Chris Stigall he owned “a dozen guns” and said: “We can’t compromise our ability to protect ourselves. .”

READ MORE: Mehmet Oz says he’s now a resident of Pennsylvania. So why is he still hanging out at his New Jersey mansion?

Oz has long said he’s personally against abortion, but raised concerns as recently as 2019 about laws that would severely restrict the procedure in early pregnancy, and said he wouldn’t want to. not impose their point of view on others. He now describes himself as ‘strongly pro-life’ and told Stigall: ‘I believe life begins at conception’. He had been dancing around the question of when life begins when pressed by Fox News in December.

He didn’t go into those details in West Chester, instead telling the public that he had operated on a heart for five days: “When you see the majesty of that little muscle in there…you can’t understand the idea of ​​smothering that.

Anita Edgarian was not totally convinced. The 57-year-old from West Chester said as an Armenian American she wanted to know more about Oz’s dual Turkish citizenship, another issue her rivals have insisted on.

“I mean you look at it today, it’s perfect. It says all the right things in the right environment,” she said, pointing to the fancy decor and sound system. “But we have to be careful who we elect. I want to know more.”

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