GOP U.S. Senate hopefuls David McCormick (L) and Mehmet Oz (R) | Capital-Star photo collage by John L. Micek
With weeks to go until the May 17 primary election, five Pennsylvania Republicans campaigning for U.S. Senate faced off Monday night in their first debate since former President Donald Trump endorsed a GOP hopeful in the crowded and costly race.
The candidates — conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, Montgomery County real estate investor and businessman Jeff Bartos, Trump-endorsed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, and former Trump administration ambassador Carla Sands — answered questions about appealing to voters, residency, economic decisions, immigration, and reproductive rights in the forum event hosted by ABC-27 News in Harrisburg.
But the rivalry between Oz and McCormick — who have faced accusations of being carpetbaggers — was at the center of the hour-long event, with Bartos and Barnette, both Pennsylvania natives, accusing their opponents of being tourists in the commonwealth.
“When these carpetbaggers lose, you will never see them again. And if they should win, you will never see them again,” Barnette, a Pennsylvania native, said, referring to Oz, McCormick, and Sands.
Bartos, who grew up in Reading, said Oz and McCormick, who have launched a series of costly attack ads against each other, are more concerned with fighting with each other than working for voters.
“They don’t know main street Pennsylvania. They haven’t cared to spend time there until they decided to run for office,” Bartos said. “You can’t save main street Pennsylvania if you cannot find main street Pennsylvania.”
The GOP hopefuls have faced scrutiny over their residency since launching their campaigns.
Oz, a longtime New Jersey resident known best for hosting the “Dr. Oz Show,” said voters he has talked to care more about what he stands for — not where he was born.
He defended his residency and promoted his ties to the commonwealth, specifically his University of Pennsylvania education and in-laws. After announcing his candidacy in November, Oz said that he lives at an address owned by his in-laws, who live in Montgomery County. He registered to vote in Pennsylvania ahead of the 2020 election.
McCormick, who grew up in Pennsylvania, attended West Point and served in the Gulf War. He touted his familial ties to the commonwealth. He bought a home in Pittsburgh, where he spent 10 years working for FreeMarkets, a software company.
McCormick, 56, most recently lived in Connecticut, where he served as chief executive of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund.
Sands lived in California before living overseas as an ambassador to Denmark for the Trump administration. She grew up in Pennsylvania and said she still voted and paid taxes in Pennsylvania even while living out of state.
Asked to address political attack ads, McCormick and Oz — who have targeted each other in the race — dismissed the television commercials, phone calls, and mailings.
Oz faced accusations of being a “Hollywood liberal” and a “RINO,” a Republican in name only.
“They are designed to try to fool the electorate,” Oz said, promoting his endorsement from the former president.
McCormick described claims that he made billions of dollars for China and for himself as “disingenuous” and said he’s worked in other countries, not just in China.
“I’ve done business around the world,” he added.
On the Democratic side, voters will choose between U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Jenkintown Borough Councilmember Alex Khalil. They participated in a debate hosted by Spotlight PA on Monday night.
The widely-watched and crowded race is one of the few chances Democrats have to gain a seat and build on what’s now a narrow majority in the upper chamber. And on May 17, registered voters in Pennsylvania will cast their ballot for one of the candidates vying for their party’s nomination to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
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