Fight over Dr. Oz's Turkish citizenship is latest twist in Pennsylvania Senate race

Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Dr. Mehmet Oz at a town-hall-style event in Newtown, Pa., on Feb. 20. (Marc Levy/AP)

Celebrity surgeon and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz said he will renounce his Turkish citizenship if elected.

“My dual citizenship has become a distraction in this campaign,” Oz said in a statement to Yahoo News and other outlets late Wednesday. “I maintained it to care for my ailing mother, but after several weeks of discussions with my family, I’m committing that before I am sworn in as the next U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania I will only be a U.S. citizen.”

Oz is running for the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. The race is shaping up to be one of the most expensive and important in the country this year.

His promise to surrender his Turkish passport came after a local outlet, PoliticsPA, reported earlier this week that Oz would forgo security clearances if necessary in order to maintain his dual citizenship with Turkey.

The daytime talk show host and cardiothoracic surgeon was born in Ohio to Turkish immigrants and served in the Turkish military in the 1980s to maintain his citizenship there. According to PoliticsPA, Oz said he needed to maintain it in order to more easily return to Turkey and supervise the care of his mother, who has Alzheimer’s.

“I can love my country and love my mom,” Oz said, according to the outlet, two months out from the May 17 primary.

Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Oz at a campaign event in York, Pa., on Feb. 5. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

Oz’s campaign manager disputed the exchange, writing on Twitter, “Dr. Oz never said this. I was standing right there. I’ve asked the reporter to correct his reporting as it’s inaccurate. Also — you can have a dual citizenship and full security clearance in congress. Even asking this question is ridiculous.” PoliticsPA, however, stood by its reporting.

Oz’s main opponent for the Republican nomination, David McCormick, has highlighted Oz’s dual citizenship in recent months. In Oz’s statement, he accused McCormick of using the citizenship issue to launch “bigoted attacks.” If elected, Oz would be the first Muslim U.S. senator.

“The bigoted attacks my opponent Dave McCormick has made against me as the child of immigrants are reminiscent of slurs made in the past about Catholics and Jews,” Oz said. “It is a sign of McCormick’s desperate campaign that he has resorted to this disgraceful tactic. It is completely disqualifying behavior for anyone aiming to serve in the United States Senate.”

According to Senate rules, Oz would not need to renounce his Turkish citizenship, as members of Congress do not have traditional security clearances and are instead privy to sensitive information due to their elected office.

There is also no rule against dual citizens running for office: Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, was elected in 2012 but didn't renounce his Canadian citizenship until two years later.

McCormick is a former hedge fund manager who moved from Connecticut to pursue the GOP nomination, competing against Oz, who moved from New Jersey. (Oz received his MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, while McCormick is a western Pennsylvania native.)

David McCormick.
David McCormick at a campaign event in Coplay, Pa., on Jan. 25. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Oz made the comments reported by PoliticsPA at an event in which he attacked his opponent over allegations that McCormick's hedge fund made money off Pennsylvania taxpayers. McCormick, a former George W. Bush administration official, has also been criticized by Oz for his business ties to China.

McCormick, for his part, is looking to shore up his conservative bona fides. His new TV ad features a “Let’s Go Brandon” chant, which has, in a somewhat convoluted way, become a Republican catchphrase to disparage President Biden.

While Oz benefited from early name recognition, a Fox News poll last week showed McCormick leading him 24 points to 15.

McCormick has benefited from millions in outside television advertising — including $5 million contributed by Chicago hedge fund chief Ken Griffin — attacking the celebrity doctor. Oz says he has spent $10 million of his own money on the race in an attempt to counter McCormick.

Another GOP candidate, Carla Sands, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Denmark under former President Donald Trump, has also spent millions of her own money on the race but has lagged in polling.

All the Republican candidates in the race are currently lobbying for Trump’s endorsement. Trump originally backed former congressional candidate Sean Parnell for the seat, which is being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. Parnell subsequently dropped out of the race after losing a custody battle in which a judge ruled he had committed “some acts of abuse in the past.”

Earlier this week, McCormick held a campaign event with Parnell. “I’m with him; I think he’s the right guy,” Parnell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the event, adding that he was unsure why Trump had not endorsed McCormick.

Meanwhile, the frontrunner on the Democratic side in both polling and fundraising is Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who served as mayor of the town of Braddock, located in suburban Pittsburgh, and previously ran for Senate in 2016.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman at a Democratic Party event in Harmony, Pa., on March 4. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Fetterman’s national profile grew in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when he pushed back against baseless accusations of voter fraud in Pennsylvania via cable news appearances and social media. He has been touring every county in the state, including those that are traditionally more conservative, a strategy he successfully pursued during his 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor.

Fetterman has pushed a progressive platform, including Medicare for All and marijuana legalization.

Rep. Conor Lamb, a relative moderate, is also running for the Democratic nomination but has lagged behind Fetterman as the national party continues to stay out of the race. Lamb has picked up some key endorsements — including those from Philadelphia’s mayor, building trade unions and top party leaders — but has trailed Fetterman by double digits in most polling.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who represents part of Philadelphia, remains in the race but has struggled with fundraising. All three candidates have said that if elected they would vote to remove the legislative filibuster, a Senate rule that has been used to stymie a number of Democratic priorities in Congress.

Oz, Sands and Kenyatta, who is Black, would all make history in a state where every senator has been a white man.

Both the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rate the November general election as a toss-up. The Pennsylvania race is seen as one of the Democrats’ best chances to pick up a Senate seat in what is widely expected to be a bruising midterm for the party.

In addition to the Senate race and a number of competitive House races, Pennsylvania has an open governor’s race, since Democrat Tom Wolf has reached his term limit. The state has seen a number of narrow results in big races lately, including the last two presidential races and Toomey’s 2016 reelection, all of which were decided by less than 2 points.