PITTSBURGH — Republican Mehmet Oz is taking his campaign message of bipartisanship to a new level, saying he wants to know how exactly to reach across the aisle if he wins Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.
“What are you able to predict for us about bipartisanship in Washington? How does it even work?” he asked Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., at a roundtable event Sunday.
“I suspect that all of your colleagues on the Democratic side are in agreement that we want enough law and order that people feel secure and we want a border that’s secure,” he said at one point to Collins.
The event alongside two of the most moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill — Collins says Oz “will listen to both sides” — was a microcosm of how Oz has been running his campaign in the final weeks of the pivotal midterm race that could determine control of the Senate. At campaign events and in nonstop TV advertising, Oz is portraying himself as a moderate who would push back against extremism and bring “balance” to Congress.
“We’ve got to unite,” Oz said at a rally Friday in Wexford, a suburb north of Pittsburgh. “Let us cut through the partisan bickering and deal with the problems that you, me and everyone else wants to address.”
His critics aren’t buying it. Democrats see his message as blatant hypocrisy considering he is backed by former President Donald Trump and has campaigned with him.
While Oz has been running TV with ads about unity and saying “extremism on both sides makes things worse,” Democrats say he’s obfuscating his record and is desperate to say whatever it takes to win. They point to remarks in the GOP primary, when Oz said that abortion was murder and that “we cannot move on” from the 2020 election. More recently, critics point to his having rallied with Trump and hard-right GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano.
“Dr. Oz just released a new ad claiming he’ll ‘stand up to extremism on both sides,” Fetterman tweeted last week. “Uhhhh will he refuse to campaign with Mastriano + Trump this weekend then?? How about firing the insurrectionists on his payroll?? His ad (like everything else he says tbh) is total BS.”
Democrats also took aim at Oz at a Pittsburgh rally headlined Saturday by former President Barack Obama, with Fetterman saying he was “proud to be standing with a president that is 100% sedition free.” Obama, meanwhile, lambasted Oz, the celebrity surgeon, for promoting dubious cures and medical advice on TV.
“Listen, it’s easy to joke about Dr. Oz and all these quack remedies he’s pushed on TV, but it matters,” Obama said. “It says something about his character. If somebody’s willing to peddle snake oil to make a buck, then he’s probably willing to sell snake oil to get elected.”
Still, there are signs that Oz’s focus on bipartisanship has resonated with voters. His message of unity has coincided with a rise in the polls that has put the race in a virtual tie. And he appears to be benefiting from a small but important number of split-ticket voters backing him and Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor.
“Dr. Oz is trying to find a language that is going to produce real solutions to the issues we’re facing,” former Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., said after the Wexford rally.
Oz’s transformation from Trump-backed primary winner to self-proclaimed moderate Republican has been months in the works. He has campaigned alongside Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., whose seat he is trying to fill and who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. He has mostly kept Mastriano at arm’s length while rarely mentioning Trump, instead focusing on crime, inflation and undocumented immigration.
Even at Trump’s rally Saturday, Oz was on message delivering brief remarks about boosting public safety, securing the border and improving “legal immigration.”
“What surgeons do is tackle big problems,” he said. “And we do it successfully, in my case fixing broken hearts by working with everybody, by making sure we unify people in the operating room, not divide them. The same will work for our nation.”
Fetterman, who hails from the party’s progressive wing, has mostly kept his message consistent, including Saturday, when he pledged to vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster.
A Pennsylvania Republican who looked to pull Oz rightward was Mastriano.
“There was one thing that I liked that Fetterman said the other day,” Mastriano, a state senator, said at Trump’s rally Saturday. “Just one thing: when he accused Oz of rolling with Mastriano.”
Mastriano trails Shapiro, the state attorney general, by double digits in the FiveThirtyEight polling average.
To be sure, many Republican voters had serious doubts about Oz during the primary. Some still do. But with the election potentially determining control of the Senate, most have come to view him as better than the Democratic alternative.
“I wasn’t too sure of him at the beginning,” Rich Schachte, 62, a Republican voter from New Kensington, said after a Mastriano rally last week, adding that Oz won him over by being “honest” about who he is. “He’s not somebody who’s like, ‘Well, I’m at this event, I’m gonna act like this. I’m at this event, I’m gonna act like this.’ He’s the same everywhere.”
Others, however, say it would be wise for Oz to keep Trump at a distance. Anthony Langzettel, 46, a Republican from Hampton Township, said before Oz’s rally in Wexford that he was worried that Oz might be too closely aligned with Trump.
“Well, I’m concerned he’ll be with what Trump stands for just because of that” endorsement, Langzettel said. “As much as I loved Trump as president, he’s pushed the other party so far away.”