HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Celebrity physician turned politician Dr. Mehmet Oz is set to debate his GOP rivals for the first time Monday night in the race to replace retiring Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. In a race for a seat that could help determine the balance of power in the Senate, Oz and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick are at the top of the GOP primary polls. The Monday evening debate will be an opportunity for voters to see how the pair differs, if at all, on key issues.
The debate will air at 8pm ET and be televised in all 67 counties in the Keystone State. It’ll be available nationally via livestream.
In an early April poll, McCormick had the support of 18% of likely GOP voters while Oz was right behind him at 17%. Political commentator Kathy Barnette finished third with 10% in the WHTM/Emerson College Polling/The Hill Pennsylvania primary poll followed by businessman Jeff Bartos at 9% and former U.S. Ambassador Carla Sands at 8%. The group of five will take the stage in the debate hosted by Nexstar Media Inc. and media partner WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh.
Here are four things we’ll be watching for under the studio lights in Harrisburg on Monday:
How will Oz defend his TV show statements?
Since former U.S. President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Oz, McCormick’s campaign and supporters have used clips and past comments from Oz’s TV show to paint him as left-leaning.
The last time McCormick and Oz shared the same stage, McCormick claimed comments on the “Dr. Oz Show” and other writings showed Oz called for more fracking regulation. Oz denied the claim during a forum hosted by the Manufacturer & Business Association, calling it “a lie.”
It’s likely Oz will use any questions about whether he’s conservative enough to be the nominee to remind voters he earned Trump’s endorsement over the other candidates in the race.
Interestingly enough, an ad currently on airwaves and featured on the McCormick campaign website shows bikers behind McCormick prominently displaying pro-Trump flags.
Can the outsiders prove they can connect with Pennsylvanians?
Prior to this race, both of the frontrunners had their primary residences in other states. Oz’s home was in New Jersey and McCormick lived in Connecticut.
Oz attended the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine after growing up in Wilmington, Delaware. He’s lived in New Jersey for the last 20 years, according to GoErie.com.
Go Erie reports Oz started voting in Pennsylvania via absentee ballot in 2021 using his in-laws’ Philadelphia-area address.
While McCormick may have previously lived in Fairfield, Connecticut, he grew up in the Columbia County town of Bloomsburg. He considers his candidacy a return home.
McCormick’s parents live just outside Harrisburg, according to PennLive.com.
While living in Connecticut, McCormick worked at Bridgewater Associates. Before that, he had a position with President George W. Bush’s administration.
Both candidates have flooded television and social media with video and images of them on the ground in the state interacting with Pennsylvanians.
Will a candidate lower in the polls be able to hit a home run?
During Thursday’s debate with the Democratic candidates in the race, many social media users felt Malcolm Kenyatta had a standout performance. His name was trending on Twitter as the debate came to a close. Behind at least 7% in the polls, Barnette, Bartos, and Sands will be hoping for similar strong performances to gain support and raise additional campaign funds.
Bartos has previously labeled his frontrunner opponents as “political tourists.” Bartos is a real estate developer.
Barnette made headlines during a recent forum after calling Oz a “liberal.” She’s a conservative political commentator.
Sands served as the U.S. ambassador to Denmark during the Trump administration. It’s worth noting Oz gained Trump’s endorsement over Sands.
How will the candidates act on the same stage?
This will be the first time these five candidates have appeared on the same stage in a debate format.
In coverage of a previous forum featuring four of the candidates, Bloomberg’s Mark Niquette noted the moderator had to try and gain control over portions of the session. He also wrote Oz complained about the forum’s rules not being followed.
As was the case in Thursday’s Democratic debate, all participants have agreed to the rules and answers will be timed and those times enforced. While fireworks are expected, moderators Dennis Owens of WHTM and Lisa Sylvester of WPXI will do everything they can to keep the candidates in line and the conversation moving.
The primary election for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania is scheduled to take place on May 17. Voters must register to vote by May 2.