In the race for the coveted endorsement of Donald Trump in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, Dr. Mehmet Oz appears to have the advantage.
Three people familiar with Trump’s thinking, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former president was leaning toward supporting Oz. Trump recently said he is close to making a decision on whether it will affect the race, a major contest in the battle for the majority in the Senate this fall.
With Trump, nothing is final until it is final – and it is likely that he will decide not to issue any approval. He recently met with Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick at Mar-a-Lago and spoke with several people about the Republican primary.
McCormick and Oz, as well as their allies, have been fighting a battle for months over Trump’s gesture. With his loyal base and unparalleled popularity among Republican voters, Trump could have a huge impact on the competition. If he picks a favorite candidate, their success or lack of success will also be closely watched as a test of his control of the party ahead of the 2024 presidential election, especially since some of his candidates have faced challenges this year.
In Pennsylvania, Trump initially endorsed Sean Parnell for the Senate seat before Parnell withdrew amid allegations of abuse by his estranged wife.
Choosing between Oz and McCormick is even more difficult for the former president because Trumpworld is divided over the leading candidates. Some of Trump’s allies have strong opinions about the Pennsylvania primaries, which means he risks pissing off friends no matter what he decides.
Jim Worthington, a Pennsylvania Republican appointed by Trump to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, said alongside Oz, he and Oz have spoken with Trump about Oz on several occasions, including Sunday afternoon at Mar-a-Lago.
“She walked away quite a bit, very pleased with his feelings about Oz and what kind of guy he was and what kind of senator he would be,” Worthington said, refusing to go into more “specific details of the conversation.”
During their 15-minute chat in the resort’s lobby, Trump asked Worthington questions about the Senate race, which Worthington said appeared to be Trump “more or less confirming what he already believed or knew” about the contest.
“I can tell you the Chief is definitely fond of Oz, sure,” he said.
Oz and his wife Lisa had dinner with former President and Melania Trump on March 16, a meal at Mar-a-Lago that lasted several hours, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
Three days later, while speaking to the American Freedom Tour crowd in Ft. Lauderdale, Trump raised the Pennsylvania Senate race and mentioned the famous television doctor.
“Does anyone like Dr. Oz?” Trump asked the crowd in Florida to cheers and applaud.
But other Trump allies are using their platforms to criticize Oz.
Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist in Trump’s White House, broke into Oz on his podcast recently: “How Dr. Oz, probably the most anti-MAGA guy, has made Fox attack this guy non-stop and Newsmax pander this guy, and that’s what it is – How does Dr. Oz, from New Jersey, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s Companion, Floating from Jersey, How Did He Become a Worker in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Senate Race? “
Jacques Posubic, a far-right figure who was a guest on Bannon’s show at the time, responded, “This guy wasn’t there in 2020, and he certainly wasn’t in 2016. But he suddenly found his way to switch to Damascus. And that was conservative. In hiding all the time? Cool, I think that’s news for everyone else in the whole movement.”
As the host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” Oz in 2016 had then-nominated Trump on his show for a medical exam, a decision some have criticized as a political ploy and a favor to Trump, who has mostly positively reported.
McCormick and Trump met at Mar-a-Lago last week for an hour, and had a “very productive” meeting that touched on fundraising, polling and advertising, according to a person familiar with their conversation. A source said Rob Gleeson, a McCormick supporter and former chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, also recently met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
McCormick’s wife, Dina Powell, served as Trump’s deputy national security adviser. McCormick also hired former Trump White House staffers Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, and former Trump campaign adviser David Urban and White House attorney Jim Schultz helped McCormick launch his bid for the Senate.
Besides Oz, there is Fox News host Sean Hannity and casino mogul Steve Wynn, who have actively lobbied for Trump to endorse the famous doctor, according to people familiar with their efforts. Perhaps most notably, Melania Trump is an Oz supporter in the Senate race.
A person close to Trump, while discussing the former president’s thinking about endorsing Pennsylvania, pointed to a phrase Trump frequently repeated when speaking of Oz: “He’s been on TV in people’s bedrooms and living rooms for years.”
Trump sometimes used a variation of that phrase, emphasizing in conversations that Oz had “been in the women’s bedrooms” for years while they watched his daytime TV show, something Trump believes would help Oz win suburban voters.
“There is a certain level of confidence that is usually associated with that,” that person said of Oz’s television career. “Something the president understands closely because it was the key to his rise.”
Melania Trump’s support for Oz “reinforces that belief and value of those intangibles” that celebrities like Oz have, even though McCormick is “in a way the most impressive candidate,” according to that person.
Conservative commentator John Fredericks, a friend of Trump who served as his Virginia campaign chair in 2016 and 2020, greeted the former president on his radio show on Wednesday. Fredericks, who met Oz at the CPAC in February and just endorsed him, opened the interview with a question about whether Oz was a “MAGA candidate.”
“He’s a good guy too,” Trump said, describing his positive experience appearing on the Oz TV show for a medical during the 2016 election.
“He’s a very good quality man,” Trump said. “I will make a decision on that.” Trump said the decision would come “probably fairly soon.”
In an interview, Fredericks declined to provide details of any private conversations he had with Trump prior to their conversation. He said he expected Trump to make a decision within the next week or two.
Fredericks said the decision to endorse Trump would be based on “what’s best for the country” and the candidate most aligned with “America First policies,” before tearing up McCormick for his work as hedge fund CEO and his relationships with George W. Bush administration. McCormick served as Under Secretary of the Treasury under Bush.
Not everyone who has discussed Pennsylvania with Trump is convinced that Oz is in the bag. A McCormick supporter who spoke with Trump recently said they would be “surprised” if Trump endorsed Oz.
“It is understandable that Trump has viewed Oz’s identity and celebrity status as positive features since he launched his 2016 presidential campaign in the same way,” added a former Trump campaign aide. “However, the main difference is that no candidate, especially a candidate like Oz with an anti-MAGA track record, will be able to motivate grassroots voters like Trump in an epic way.”
“President Trump’s continued popularity across Pennsylvania is undeniable, and Dave is proud to align with his American-first agenda,” McCormick spokesperson Jess Szymansky said.
With the initial competition still not being settled, any decision Trump makes to endorse is a potential risk.
While Oz started the primaries with a clear lead and officially announced his candidacy a month and a half before McCormick, several polls show that the dynamics of the race have since changed.
McCormick had a 24 percent lead in a Fox News poll conducted early in March, while Oz had a 15 percent score, but another recent poll found it to be overheating.
McCormick’s polling expert Jim McLaughlin said the latest internal campaign survey found the former business manager about 25 percent and Oz at 14 percent. He also said Oz’s rating of 51 percent is unfavorable.
Republican voters saw the Pennsylvania primaries right through him. They understand that he is not conservative in Pennsylvania. You ask them, what do you know about Muhammad Oz? They tell you he’s a Hollywood liberal.”
However, the Oz campaign released an internal poll that showed a different result, with 24.8% and McCormick receiving 21.6%.
Other candidates in the Republican primaries include Carla Sands, the former ambassador under Trump. Cathy Barnett, conservative commentator; and Jeff Bartos, real estate developer.