One thing was clear in Monday night’s GOP Senate debate.
Mehmet Oz has Donald Trump’s endorsement.
What isn’t yet clear is who is the “Most Pennsylvanian” after the 60-minute debate at the studios of abc27 in Harrisburg.
It was the first time that the front-runners in the polls – Oz and David McCormick – were together on the debate stage and they were joined by Carla Sands, Kathy Barnette and Jeff Bartos.
Oz was under attack most of the evening by the other four candidates, but always seemed to respond to them by mentioning the 45th president and his endorsement. The heart surgeon and former TV celebrity also followed a page from the Trump playbook and gave McCormick the nickname, “Dishonest Dave.”
“President Trump saw right through him and that’s why he did not endorse [McCormick],” Oz said.
McCormick, the former CEO of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, countered that Oz was a weak candidate without the endorsement. “He can’t run on his own positions and records,” McCormick said. “What’s true is that he has flip-flopped on every major issue.”
One of the issues in the campaign has been the alleged “carpet-bagger” status of three of the candidates.
“Pennsylvanians care about what I stand for more than where I’m from,” said Oz, who grew up in Delaware and lived most of his adult life in New Jersey.
McCormick, who recently moved back to the state after living 10 years in Connecticut, said “My Pennsylvania roots are deep. I’m very connected to my friends where I grew up, and I’m very connected to the people of Pennsylvania.”
Sands, the former U.S. ambassador to Denmark, said “There’s no one else in this race that’s more Pennsylvanian,” based on her roots in nearby Camp Hill after years living in California.
Bartos, a real estate developer and former candidate for lieutenant governor, took the opportunity to stake his claim as a born-and-bred Pennsylvanian, noting the time he took during the pandemic to provide grants to small businesses throughout the Commonwealth.
“You can’t save Main Street Pennsylvania if you can’t find Main Street Pennsylvania.”
Barnette, a conservative commentator, also took a shot at the purported outsiders. “I can promise the people of Pennsylvania, when these carpetbaggers lose, you will never see them again,” she said.
In a race that has already seen nearly $50 million in ad spending by the candidates and their super PACs, the debate was an opportunity to address the claims and defend the positions.
Oz and McCormick threw barbs at one another. “Pennsylvanians care about what I stand for more than where I’m from,” said Oz, who grew up in Delaware and lived most of his adult life in New Jersey. “What’s true is that [Oz] has flip-flopped on every major issue we’re talking about in this campaign,” McCormick said.
Sands didn’t miss a beat, saying “Dave McCormick could never have made the billions he did without bowing to the Chinese Communist Party.”
The candidates all seemed to agree with party talking points, including on the question of banning abortion, banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports, criticizing President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy and the border and promoting Trump’s baseless conspiracy that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
While each of the candidates said parts of the state’s election system need to be reviewed, Oz and Barnette took the strongest stances, saying that voters can’t “move past” the 2020 election.
“Unfortunately, Joe Biden’s the president,” Bartos said, arguing that “Americans are going to stand up with one loud voice” in November and “we are going to have historic wins.”