What a month it’s been in the Republican primary for the 2022 Pennsylvania Senate race. The front-runner is gone, a daytime TV star is in, and even more candidates loom on the horizon.
The already fluid contest was sent into further turmoil when Sean Parnell, the man leading the polls for the GOP nomination, was forced to suspend his campaign. Parnell was suddenly embroiled in scandal when his ex-wife accused him of physically abusing both herself and their children. The old rules of politics seemed to hold when Parnell finally dropped out, if only for a few days, before Dr. Oz decided to jump into the race.
Mehmet Oz’s candidacy highlights a conundrum that’s perplexed a generation of political analysts. Ronald Reagan’s career set a standard that a celebrity could run for political office, but only if they made a clear break from their former life. Donald Trump’s reality TV candidacy, however, proved that just because a campaign could be justifiably laughed at, that didn’t mean that it couldn’t win.
So how am I to judge the prospects of a man denounced as a charlatan, who nonetheless has hosted 1,681 episodes of television over twelve years? Just how powerful will the name recognition and implied authority that comes from being beamed into homes across the nation ultimately prove to be? At least for now, we can only judge by the old rules, and they indicate that Oz faces some serious obstacles.
Take, for example, the first controversy of Oz’s campaign; his lack of a home in the Keystone State. Apparently, he chose to register at his in-laws’ place last year instead of buying property in PA. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, it appears Oz is still living in his New Jersey mansion. He even declared his candidacy in the Washington Examiner, instead of a more logical place like a local conservative radio show. This all causes the whole endeavor to feel more like a six-month trial run to the May primary, rather than a true all-in bid.
Nor does it seem that Oz is scaring off other potential challengers. Just look at hedge fund CEO David McCormick, who first started considering a candidacy after the revelations against Parnell, and is still seemingly intent on running. On top of that, former Congressman Keith Rothfus is also putting it out there that he may decide to throw his hat into the ring.
One illustration of the ambivalence of Pennsylvania’s Republican establishment towards Oz’s campaign was the lack of high-profile endorsements. With the exception of Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, the commonwealth’s top elected officials are staying on the sidelines. Of course, that could all change with an endorsement from one very prominent former office holder.
With his previously chosen candidate Sean Parnell now out of the race, the Donald Trump primary now begins anew. Oz isn’t wasting any time in that contest, crediting Trump for the COVID vaccines in his Examiner column and using Trump’s favored “America First” phrase in his announcement video. He then reiterated both these points in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Apparently, Oz’s efforts are paying off. According to Politico Playbook, Trump has been telling confidants that he thinks Oz has a chance and likes that they both transitioned from television to politics. The relationship between the two men goes back at least to September 2016, when Trump appeared on The Dr. Oz Show to supposedly unveil his medical records. An endorsement, however, is by no means a fait accompli.
Several other Republican candidates in the field will be trying to leverage their Trump connection into a prized endorsement. Carla Sands, for example, was a major fundraiser for the 45th President and served as his Ambassador to Denmark. Meanwhile, Kathy Barnette already has the support of Trump acolytes Michael Flynn and Sebastian Gorka. Oz’s main rival for Trump affections, though, is likely to be McCormick.
McCormick made a pilgrimage to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week to seek out the former President’s blessing. The hedge fund manager has the advantage of possessing a number of connections to Trump’s inner circle. First of all, he’s married to Dina Powell, who served as Trump’s Deputy National Security Advisor, and is a close ally of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Additionally, one of McCormick’s top backers is David Urban, a lobbyist who made a killing thanks to his early support of Trump. While the two men had a falling out when Trump fired Urban’s friend Mark Esper from his post as Secretary of Defense, Trump has a habit of welcoming once-exiled supporters back to his orbit.
As a result, this once wide-open primary is starting to look like a race between two men who weren’t even considered prospects a month ago. Let this be a lesson, that in today’s politics, the only certainty is uncertainty.