Following weeks of speculation, Dr. Mehmet Oz officially declared his candidacy for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday.
In a Washington Examiner opinion column announcing the run, Oz highlighted his medical experience as the undercurrent for his campaign launch while also indicating a policy focus on the ongoing, national pandemic response.
"We have not managed our crises as effectively as past generations. During the pandemic, I learned that when you mix politics and medicine, you get politics instead of solutions. That's why I am running for the U.S. Senate: to help fix the problems and to help us heal," Oz said.
Although the column did not directly state Oz's political affiliation, in a video posted to Twitter the same day, Oz said he is running as a conservative. A campaign website that briefly went live on Tuesday afternoon also outlined an affiliation with WinRed, a Republican fundraising platform.
Oz joins a crowded Republican primary in what is shaping up to be one of the nation's most watched midterm races. As a pivotal 2020 campaign battleground that tipped the scales for President Joe Biden, Pennsylvania's Senate race is now slated to help determine which party controls the Senate in 2022.
The current field of leading Democratic candidates includes Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Rep. Conor Lamb, state representative Malcolm Kenyatta and Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who is also a physician.
Oz's splashy entrance to the Republican primary comes on the heels of a major shakeup that left the party without a likely frontrunner heading into a critical period of the election cycle. Last week, Sean Parnell -- who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump -- dropped out of the race after losing a contentious custody battle that raised allegations of domestic abuse.
Although Oz has his own ties to Trump given his 2018 appointment to the former president's Council on Sports, so far, Trump has yet to announce whether he will endorse another candidate ahead of the primary.
The lack of a Trump-backed candidate opens the Republican field up for another hopeful to make his or her pitch to the party's base supporters, but it remains to be seen how Oz's name recognition sways voters. The combination of his celebrity status and focus on the pandemic is already opening the door to criticism linked to comments he made in 2020 about the risks associated with reopening schools amid the pandemic.
"We need our mojo back. Let's start with things that are really critical to the nation where we think we might be able to open without getting into a lot of trouble. I tell you, schools are a very appetizing opportunity," Oz said at the time during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Oz went on to reference a medical journal article "arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality. You know, that's -- any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into a school where they're safely being educated, being fed, and making the most out of their lives, with the theoretical risk on the backside, it might be a tradeoff some folks would consider."
The comments were met with public backlash that accused Oz of using his fame to air misinformation. Oz later issued a video apology, saying he "realized (his) comments on risks around opening schools have confused and upset people, which was never (his) intention."
"I misspoke," he said.
Across the aisle, Democrats are seizing on Oz's candidacy as an example of political messiness that could cost Republicans the race.
"Pennsylvania's Republican Senate primary continues to descend into chaos. Mehmet Oz's campaign announcement is the latest example of how this Senate race is a nightmare scenario for Republicans. It's clear this GOP Senate primary will get nastier, more expensive — and whichever Republican candidate ultimately limps out of this intra-party fight will be deeply out of step with the Pennsylvania voters who will decide the general election," Jack Doyle, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party said in a statement.