CARLISLE, Pa. (AP) — Republican Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz is stepping up his criticism of far-right candidates in Pennsylvania who are gaining ground ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.
After spending much of the campaign avoiding fellow Republican Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, Oz said on Saturday that she was out of step with the GOP and could not win the November general election. In an interview, he disputed a tweet 2015 by Barnette in which she wrote that “pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam”.
Oz, who would be the country’s first Muslim senator, called the comments “disqualifying”.
“It is reprehensible for her to tweet something that is defamatory of an entire religion,” Oz told The Associated Press. “This state was based on religious freedom. As a Pennsylvanian, I am proud to uphold these founding beliefs that every religion has its merits. »
The Barnette campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier in the week, Barnette told NBC News that she had not made the statement, which was still live on her Twitter feed on Saturday.
For months, the race for the Republican nomination for the open seat in the Pennsylvania Senate has been a costly fight between former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and Oz, who have spent millions of dollars tackling the television. Each was also faced with questions about their ties to Pennsylvania. McCormick grew up in the state, while Oz went to medical school there and married in Philadelphia.
But in the final days of the Republican primary, a third candidate — Barnette, a conservative commentator who courted hardline pro-Trump groups — emerged. Trump himself warned that Barnette’s background had not been properly checked.
With the election just days away, polls show a tight three-way race with a significant number of undecided voters who could sway the results next week.
Oz won Trump’s endorsement in the Senate contest, though some Trump supporters continue to question his conservative credentials.
When asked to clarify his views on abortion in Saturday’s interview, Oz distanced himself from Trump’s new pick for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano, a far-right conservative who called abortion “problem number one”. During a recent televised debate, Mastriano said he supports banning abortion from conception, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
Oz has described himself as “pro-life,” but said he would prefer an abortion ban in Pennsylvania that includes exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
“There are times when we disagree with other life advocates,” Oz told the AP. “In my case, these disagreements often arise because as a doctor, I have dealt with life-threatening issues for the mother.”
Oz saved his most pointed criticism for Barnette, however, echoing Trump’s concerns that his background hasn’t been properly scrutinized. He lashed out at her previous comments about Islam, noting that she also had a history of anti-gay remarks.
“We know so little about it,” Oz said. “Every time she answers a question, she raises other questions. But I think it’s disqualifying to make Islamophobic and homophobic comments, not just for the general election, but also for the Republican primary.
Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.