Where Dr. Oz lives becomes a campaign issue in Pennsylvania Senate race

Democratic opponent John Fetterman is fueling the attacks -- will it matter?

August 18, 2022, 2:55 PM

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, has faced the usual amount of attacks from his opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman -- but a lot of it has been unusually focused on just one topic: where Oz has been living.

For decades, as Fetterman's campaign is quick to point out -- in memes and on social media and through former reality TV stars they've hired to make videos about it -- Oz lived in a multimillion-dollar home, which he still owns, overlooking the Hudson River in New Jersey.

"I heard that you moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to look for a new job," Nicole LaValle, better known as "Snooki" from MTV's "Jersey Shore," said in a video released by Fetterman's camp last month, addressing Oz. "I know you're away from home and you're in a new place, but Jersey will not forget you."

Fetterman pulled a similar stunt with actor-musician Steven van Zandt, of "Sopranos" and E Street Band fame, and his campaign paid for a plane to fly over the New Jersey coast with a banner that read "Hey Dr. Oz! Welcome home to NJ! Love, John."

Oz -- who attended medical school and married in Pennsylvania -- moved in late 2020 into a house owned by his wife's family in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Athyn, his team says. He and his wife still reside there as they wait for a home they recently purchased in the town to be renovated, according to Brittany Yanick, a campaign spokeswoman.

"Pennsylvania is his home and where he spends practically all of his time other than necessary out of state travel for fundraising," Yanick said in a statement to ABC News this month.

She did not respond to a question about Fetterman claiming Oz had filmed a campaign ad from his New Jersey home; nor did she answer a question about a report that Oz traveled to Ireland after winning his primary in June.

Oz himself told the Associated Press earlier this month, "People don't really care where I'm from. They care what I stand for."

Still, the chatter about his roots -- much of it on social media -- has not abated, in part because of his own comments: This week, The Daily Beast published a video of him at a campaign stop saying he owned two homes, when public records indicate he owns 10 residential properties across multiple states and countries.

According to The Daily Beast, the video, which has not been obtained by ABC News, was filmed by a Democratic campaign operative who does not appear to have revealed his identity or told Oz he was being filmed.

PHOTO: Democratic Senate candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman speaks during a rally at the Bayfront Convention Center on Aug. 12, 2022, in Erie, Penn.
Democratic Senate candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman speaks during a rally at the Bayfront Convention Center on Aug. 12, 2022, in Erie, Penn.
Nate Smallwood/Getty Images

In a statement on Wednesday, Yanick said Oz was referring only to his Pennsylvania homes. Oz seconded that in a tweet responding to Fetterman: "I have 10 properties (disclosed when I announced). 2 homes. My turn: when can we debate?"

His spokeswoman said, "Dr. Oz lives in Bryn Athyn, he's currently living in the same house he was married in while the property they bought is undergoing renovations. Those are the two properties he was referring to."

All along, Fetterman has been trying to lampoon Oz as elitist and out of touch -- not just for the latest comments about his homes but also a months-old video, recently resurfaced, showing Oz grocery shopping for crudités. In the video, Oz appears to mix up the names of two local grocery chains (Redner's and Wegmans) as he reads off the prices of ingredients in an attempt to showcase the effects of ballooning inflation.

"In PA we call this a … veggie tray," Fetterman tweeted. His campaign said that it raised over $500,000 in the 24 hours after the video went viral on Monday.

Fetterman calls Oz an interloper. Oz calls it much ado about nothing -- and has his own lines of attack, including trying to tie Fetterman to the unpopular President Joe Biden and noting Fetterman's prolonged public absence while recovering from a stroke. Oz's team has publicized a running "Basement Tracker."

The Fetterman-fueled attacks echo familiar fights between candidates about which one is more authentic. Whether the criticism will steer voters away from the surgeon and former talk show host is an open question.

"It's a factor, [but] it's not the predominant factor," Edward Ulrich, 77, a registered Democrat in the Pittsburgh suburbs who calls himself a former split-ticket voter, told ABC News.

Paulette Keiffer, a self-described moderate who "takes the candidate that is best," said she believes Oz is running for selfish reasons.

"I don't think he should be running in this state," she told ABC News. "I do not believe he is sincere in representing this state."

Meanwhile, Wendy Saddler, a 52-year-old registered Republican in Ben Salem, she said was unbothered by the candidate's ties to New Jersey.

"I believe that he's sincere in his intentions," she told ABC News.

A Fox News poll of registered Pennsylvania voters released in late July found that more than half of those surveyed were concerned that Oz wasn't familiar enough with the state to represent it. The survey also found that 45% of Oz backers had reservations about him.

But in a year in which Democrats on the ballot face major headwinds of their own -- amid high inflation, Biden's low approval ratings and enduring woes about the economy and direction of the country -- some experts believe concerns about Oz won't keep Republicans from voting for him this fall. The GOP is pressing for every victory as it seeks to reclaim control of Congress.

PHOTO: Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, shakes hands with supporters at The Capitol Diner, on Aug. 12, 2022, in Swatara Township, Pa.
Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, shakes hands with supporters at The Capitol Diner, on Aug. 12, 2022, in Swatara Township, Pa.
Sean Simmers/The Patriot-News via AP

"There are so many Republicans that will come home with him," Josh Novotney, a Philadelphia-based Republican consultant, told ABC News, calling Fetterman too progressive. "Soft support is still a vote at the end of the day. A vote is a vote."

"I'd be more worried if this [Fox News] poll was taken in late September and the Republicans hadn't come home yet," Novotney added.

In interviews with ABC News, multiple local Republican leaders expressed similar optimism.

"I don't see it as a big issue with our voters," said Patricia Poprik, the chair of the Republican Party in Bucks County. "When you ask them, they might answer, but it doesn't stop them from staying and bearing with us."

Glenn Geissinger, the party chair in the swing county of Northampton, told ABC News, "I'm very comfortable with the fact that [Oz] is a Pennsylvanian," adding that at one campaign stop in his county, Oz "talked about the things that people really care about."

Geissinger said that at a recent event, Oz faced "a couple hecklers" who told him "to go back to New Jersey," but he added that "a lot more were excited to see him and enjoyed being with him and got pictures with him."

Oz's campaign is also looking to damage Fetterman as a face for national Democratic policies that Oz says have hurt Pennsylvanians' pocketbooks.

Two new ads paid for by Oz's campaign call Fetterman "radical" and link him to Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"John Fetterman's campaign can make memes, but he can't find to meet with voters concerned about the disastrous Biden-Fetterman agenda," Yanick, the spokeswoman, told ABC News.

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