“The genius of Dr. Oz is that he can get out there, he can tap into those 1.8 million people, and then his numbers can really become meaningful,” said Tom Kamen, a Republican strategist based in the Keystone State who has worked on congressional campaigns. “Most of the people who understand that this is central to mainstream Republicanism were never going to be motivated to vote in a primary.”
Oz, 54, a Cleveland ophthalmologist and plastic surgeon who has risen to national prominence through his various daytime television shows, is a top target of conservatives in Harrisburg. His endorsement has the potential to transform an intraparty debate over priorities for cutting the state’s high income and corporate tax rates, which Democrats say are among the nation’s highest.
It also adds another wrinkle to what is shaping up to be one of the most bitterly fought, widely watched Senate primaries in state history, with some critics arguing the GOP should not nominate someone who embraces President Donald Trump’s populist, tax-cutting agenda.
Oz declined to comment.
Like many others, he serves on the board of economic development group the Keystone Opportunity Council, whose executive director said he has “no recollection” of Oz backing his boss, state Sen. Scott Wagner, who is leading the field in internal polling. The State Journal-Register and The Associated Press, which are both reporting his backing, couldn’t reach Wagner for comment. Wagner himself has criticized Oz, raising questions about his medical credentials and spending.
Kamen said he had spoken with Wagner recently about the endorsement. “Scott felt that, in order to be successful in this primary and in winning this primary, he needed to have many different constituencies behind him,” Kamen said.
Kamen was a Kasich state political director in 2010 and is now working for Republican John Russell, who is entering the primary. Kamen did not give names of people whom he spoke with, but he said all of the people involved were familiar with Oz.
“I’m not trying to say that all of them said that they like Dr. Oz,” Kamen said. “But all of them said this is the kind of guy that they would like to support.”
While a spokesman for Oz said the endorsement will help win back Democratic-leaning millennial voters and independents who voted for Trump, Kamen said the endorsement matters because Walsh is “an elder statesman.” In 2013, Walsh won the state Senate seat formerly held by now-Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.
Walsh was more prominent in the Senate race in 2014, when he unsuccessfully opposed Wolf in the Democratic primary. But he lost his seat in a midterm wave year that swept Republicans into control of the General Assembly.
A spokeswoman for Republican House Majority Leader Dave Reed, who is running for Walsh’s former seat, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Walsh, who also declined to comment, is one of seven Republicans vying for three open Senate seats this year, and with no incumbent. His opponent will be either state Sen. John Wozniak, a lobbyist and former county prosecutor, or state Rep. Mike Regan, a former state House speaker. Wozniak and Regan didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Wozniak, in a recent campaign video, said he supported ending state income and corporate taxes and that he had “fewer traditional colleagues” in the Legislature. “But I am still available,” he said.
Regan, in a campaign ad, criticized a tax policy Wagner sought to put in place when he was budget director for former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who was term-limited.
“Mike’s position on taxes are both simple and shameful,” Regan said. “They are unpatriotic.”
The Iowa native and who serves in the chamber of commerce’s Human Resources committee, Wozniak’s most recent legislation, which he sponsored, would mandate that all public school teachers take the equivalent of a state college course on community college fundamentals such as government and budgeting. “When it comes to our public education, a true education starts at home,” he said in a statement.
Lane Kasselman, a spokeswoman for Reed, said in an email that the congressman will not campaign with any candidate, except Wagner, until the May primary.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.