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The next Republican senator from Pennsylvania: Dr. Oz?

DAVID M. RUSSELL

Uh, what?

This is a bad sign for the GOP if true, not because Mehmet Oz is destined to be the party’s nominee but because celebrity interest in the race shows how weak the current Republican field there is. The Trump-endorsed candidate, and thus the heavy favorite, is veteran Sean Parnell. But Parnell is making all the wrong headlines lately, to the point where Trump and his inner circle reportedly regret having backed him so early. Even if Parnell recovers, he’s a flawed candidate in a highly competitive state with multiple formidable Democrats running on the other side.

A guy who’s already famous and has plenty of money might look at that, sense weakness in the GOP field, and see an opportunity to make a political splash — like Trump himself did in 2015.

The Cleveland-born, Delaware-raised, and New Jersey-based Oz rose to national attention as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she dubbed him “America’s doctor,” and later as the host of his own program. A political newcomer who has donated to both Democrats and Republicans, Oz’s principal connection to Pennsylvania appears to be his graduate education at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned both medical and business degrees in the 1980s. He owns a mansion—and is registered to vote—in neighboring New Jersey and bought a vacation home in Palm Beach, Fla., in 2015, according to public records. He does not own property in Pennsylvania, at least under his own name…

Critics are likely to home in not only on Oz’s flimsy ties to the Keystone State but also on the quack solutions—miracle cures for everything from fat loss (raspberry ketones, green coffee beans) to longevity (red palm oil)—that he has hawked to an enormous audience amidst serious and sensible medical advice.

His advocacy for miracle cures is also prompting concerns from senior Republicans involved in next year’s Senate races, one of whom told the Free Beacon that Oz’s “long trail of issues that would be instant fodder for any Democrat running against him.”

“Republicans can mess this up really quickly if we’re putting candidates on the stage whose backgrounds are going to be fodder for October and November campaign ads,” said one GOP strategist to the Free Beacon.

My first thought was that a doctor known for “alternative treatments” running in a Republican primary in 2022 would come under heavy pressure to tell the populist base what it wants to hear about COVID and vaccination. Yes to ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, no to the mRNA vaccines that have saved many, many American lives this year. But is Oz willing to do that? He’s been supportive of the “darn effective” vaccines so far and recently had Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on his show to promote vaccinating younger children.

Which leaves him in no-man’s land, too pro-vax for righty populists but maybe too suspiciously fringy for swing voters in some of his offbeat medical recommendations. He could try to navigate that problem the way Ron DeSantis has, formally recommending the vaccine while harshly criticizing vaccine mandates to keep anti-vaxxers on his good side. But I’m skeptical that Oz, as a doctor, maneuvering cynically on health policy for political advantage would be as tolerable to normie voters as it is when a professional politician like DeSantis does it. If anything, his medical credentials would lead voters to expect him to take a firm and clear stance on vaccination and COVID protocols that’s destined to alienate one side or the other.

Adding to the anxiety for Republicans in Pennsylvania is the fact that, as I say, they’re likely to face a strong Democratic candidate in the general election. The frontrunner is probably Conor Lamb, a Marine vet who currently represents the Pittsburgh suburbs in the House and who won his last race narrowly over — ta da — Sean Parnell. Lamb is a moderate, a good thing to be in a purple state like PA, and is eager to communicate that to his party’s voters after last week’s bloodbath in Virginia and New Jersey:

His prime opponent in the primary right now is the lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, whom you’ve probably seen before. He looks like a pro wrestler — huge, bald-headed, pugnacious. But despite his burly appearance, Fetterman is very much a progressive; he’s the unnamed target of the Lamb tweet above. Lamb’s going to attack him as too left-wing to get elected in a state like Pennsylvania, and he might be right, but Fetterman’s tough-guy persona is a wild card. Jonathan Last wondered today what voters, especially rural voters, will make of a candidate who looks like them but sounds like the ideologues in the Democratic Party whom the average joe disdains. If Fetterman sticks to economic populism rather than culture war, could he catch on with voters who’d otherwise have no patience for someone with his beliefs?

Here’s the $64,000 question for Democrats:

Do you win back white working-class voters with a suite of policy positions? Or . . .

Do you win them back with culture?

By the numbers, Lamb is obviously the more electable candidate and Fetterman is out of step with Pennsylvania voters as a whole.

But Fetterman is not a Main Line wokester. Everything about him broadcasts the message: “I’m on your side.” And—in case this matters—he has the clear potential to become a celebrity. You can see how a movement might build around the guy.

I’m not sure who’d be harder to beat for the GOP, the ultra-normie reasonable-sounding Marine or the charismatic populist tribune who presents like Vin Diesel. But I wouldn’t like my chances with Dr. Oz against either of them.

But don’t worry. Assuming he really is thinking of running, I assume he’ll change his mind in five minutes the way Geraldo Rivera did not long ago.

Exit question: Is Dr. Oz prepared to take this position too? A certain amount of credulity about “Trump won” nonsense is a requisite for newbie Republican candidates looking to get a foot in the door.