Lost in Dr. Ozland

Inside a Trump-blessed campaign’s too-close-for-comfort race in the Keystone State.

HOLLYWOOD–In retrospect, it was a proper gaffe.

If such a thing can be said to exist in politics in 2022. This is, after all, the era of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. But Dr. Mehmet Oz’s February foray over to my neck of the woods, Hollywood, was probably ill-advised. To the haters, the putative Pennsylvania populist’s kissing of his own “star” as it was cemented into that picture-famous California walkway was true to form: The man is a facade. 

Never mind that the critique doesn’t make much sense. Dr. Oz is many things: a native Ohioan, an alumnus of a Delaware high school, a longtime New Jersey resident, a longtime Turkish citizen, a distinguished denizen of New York green rooms. But Oz is not “too Hollywood,” as a PAC closely linked to rival David McCormick contended, as if criticizing George Constanza (as it so happens, Jerry Seinfeld is probably the most famous figure I’ve seen personally out here since embarking West). 

And never mind that Hollywood is kind of a dump. (I have since moved to West Hollywood.) In my humble opinion, a candidate running as a “Hollywood populist” would make total sense, and would be sorely welcome. 

But as I ventured on over to the Philadelphia area last week, it was clear that Bridgewater Dave’s critique had at least a veneer of truth. Oz is now deadlocked in a brutal, near-certain recount process with Mr. McCormick. It could stretch to June. Here’s where the “Hollywood” label became a problem.

So far as I can tell, Dr. Oz is all about the cameras. And it came in handy. Fox News’s most fearsome front-man—say what you will for Tucker Carlson, he’s not yet survived from Bill Clinton to Biden—Sean Hannity was all about the Turk. Hannity’s hatred for late-coming candidate Cathy Barnette was crucial in cutting down the threat that she posed to Oz’s core constituency, true Trump fans. She said as much, in a bitter missive following her distant third-place finish, after much brouhaha and excessive media attention.  

And Oz’s choice of or affinity for Hannity was subtle (well, maybe not), but telling. This is a distinct campaign than the ones trumpeted by Carlson, doyen of those dastardly “New Right” and national conservative cats. Oz, plausibly the first Muslim-American senator, issued no encyclicals. Oz played the hits, when this campaign might have called for a new release. This was not the man who chased down Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green in the men’s room in a China-hawk rage, and panned McCormick’s financial performance for his investors (not great, Josh!). Broadly speaking, that version of Dr. Oz does exist, but he was not on display in this primary.

Into the void stepped McCormick, whose hammy personal appeal was at least a personal appeal. McCormick had a superior ground game. I didn’t see a Barnette sign in my voyage back East, and I saw twice as many McCormick signs as I did Oz signs. And McCormick’s stronghold was in his native Pittsburgh, not in the just simply massive suburban complex that rings Philadelphia, and where your writer was racing around. 

Oz’s relatively less tactile campaign is relevant on two fronts. 

First, in a recount brawl, who wants it more counts. Hilariously, McCormick is apparently dialing up his old buddies at Goldman Sachs to win this skirmish. Dr. Oz is emailing me. I hope he is emailing someone else. 

Second, if Oz prevails, he is going up against a mean opponent: corporate leveler John Fetterman. And Oz’s charismatic background—child of immigrants who went to Harvard, star on its football team, then a man who worked his way up as an Ivy League surgeon—was not center stage in this primary. He of course then had a second career as a self-made television star. This race, in other words, is really Oz’s third career. He is close to more stunning success, but failure to tell more Pennsylvania voters about all of this in person will give him the reputation of the wizard of his namesake. 

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