Front runners in the GOP Pennsylvania Senate Race are put on the spot for debate

When the leading Republican candidates for the Senate in Pennsylvania – the Trump-approved celebrity surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick, a former hedge fund director – shared a debate scene for the first time Monday night, they faced sharp attacks not only from each other but also from three other candidates vying to knock their lead in the vote away .

With few significant political disagreements among the five candidates, targeted attacks instead of how long each had lived in Pennsylvania (for Dr. Oz and Mr. McCormick, not much, recently); previous commitments to other countries; and Dr. Oz’s statements during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic that encouraged people to wear masks – now a firm position among Republican believers.

Dr. Oz rarely failed to remind viewers that he had won the support of former President Donald J. Trump, a victory he used to proclaim himself the true “America First” candidate in the race. His rivals challenged the designation.

“The reason Mehmet keeps talking about President Trump’s approval is because he can not stand on his own terms and his own record,” he said. McCormick. “The problem, Doctor, is that there is no miracle cure for flip-flopping, and the people of Pennsylvania are just looking through your falsehood, and that’s what you’re dealing with, and that’s why you’re not speeding up the polls. “

The latest public opinion polls of the race, when taken together, show that Dr. Oz and Mr. McCormick was close to the lead ahead of the May 17 primary, a fact that was close to the minds of their rivals on Monday.

The other three on stage – Kathy Barnette, a political commentator who has written a book about being black and conservative; Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer; and Carla Sands, who was Mr Trump’s ambassador to Denmark – tried to attack the frontrunners both individually and as a couple of carpet bakers trying to buy a Senate seat.

“The two outsiders, the two tourists who moved here to run, they do not know Main Street Pennsylvania,” said Mr. Bartos. “They have not been indifferent to spending time there until they decided to run for office.”

The Cleveland-born Dr. Oz, a son of Turkish immigrants who went to the University of Pennsylvania for business and medical schools and who has spent most of his adult life in New York and New Jersey, recently changed his voting address to his in-laws’ home in The suburbs of Philadelphia.

Mr. McCormick, who was born and raised in western Pennsylvania, moved back to the state of Connecticut, where he served as CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund.

The debate also reflected the second-rate candidates’ efforts to make jingoistic appeals while painting Dr. Oz and Mr. McCormick as loyalties to other nations ahead of the United States. Ms. Sands, who also moved back to Pennsylvania ahead of the Senate race, said none of them could trust to place America first.

She said that Dr. Oz was “Turkey first,” he added, “He served in the Turkish military, not the U.S. military, and he chose to do so. He chose to put Turkey first.” She said Mr. McCormick “is China first. He earned his fortune in China, and he is China first. “

Dr. Oz defended his stay in the Turkish military as mandatory to maintain his Turkish citizenship, which he said he needed to visit his mother in the country. Mr. McCormick said his international business career would be beneficial to Senate decision-making.

And Ms. Barnette reflected the other candidates’ attempts to appeal to Trump voters. She even included a rare – for Republican primary – critique of the former president.

“MAGA does not belong to President Trump,” she said, using the acronym for Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again. “Our values ​​never, ever changed to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who changed and adapted our values.”

The debate showed how an obligation to Mr. Trump serves as the centerpiece of the Oz campaign. He mentioned the former president’s backing in almost all of his answers, and while Mr. McCormick avoided a question about whether Republicans should “move from 2020” and stop discussing Mr. Trump’s defeat, Dr. Oz that the party must lean into the false allegations surrounding the 2020 election.

“We can not move forward,” said Dr. Oz. “There have been draconian changes in our Democratic leadership voting laws, and they have blocked appropriate reviews of some of these decisions. We need to be serious about what happened in 2020, and we will not be able to address that,” before we can really see under the bonnet. ”

Monday’s debate was the first with the race’s two frontrunners, after Dr. Oz and Mr. McCormick skipped a TV debate in February. Both took part in the race after former Trump-approved candidate Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger who received Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan, dropped out in November after losing a custody dispute with his estranged wife.

Both Dr. Oz and Mr. McCormick has primarily self-funded their campaigns. According to the latest campaign funding reports, $ 11 million of the $ 13.4 million Dr. Oz has traveled, coming from his own pocket. Mr. McCormick has given his campaign $ 7 million of the $ 11.3 million he has raised.

For several months, the two participated in fierce public and private campaigns to win Trump’s affection. Mr. This month, Trump elected Dr. Oz, playing up for his success as a TV show host while also being on guard against Mr. Oz. McCormick’s former business associates in China.

Pennsylvania Democrats have their own contested primary election between John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor and the front-runner; Representative Conor Lamb; and Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative from Philadelphia.

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