CARLISLE — Republican Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz is stepping up his criticism of Pennsylvania far-right candidates who are gaining momentum ahead of Tuesday’s primaries.
After spending much of the campaign avoiding fellow Republican Senate contender Kathy Barnette, Oz said Saturday she was out of step with the GOP and would be unable to win the November general election. In an interview he discussed a 2015 tweet van Barnette in which she wrote that “Pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam.”
Oz, who would be the country’s first Muslim senator, described the comments as “disqualifying.”
“It’s reprehensible that she would 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 those fundamental beliefs that every faith has its merits.”
The Barnette campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier in the week, Barnette told NBC News that she has not made the statement, which was still live on her Twitter feed on Saturday.
For months, the race for the Republican nomination for the Pennsylvania open Senate seat has been an expensive battle between former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and Oz, who have spent millions of dollars attacking each other on television. Each has also raised questions about their ties to Pennsylvania. McCormick grew up in the state, while Oz attended medical school there and got married in Philadelphia.
But in the closing days of the Republican primaries, a third candidate has emerged — Barnette, a conservative commentator who has courted pro-Trump groups. Trump himself has warned that Barnette’s background has not been properly vetted.
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With the election just days away, polls show a close three-way race with a significant number of undecided voters who could influence the results next week.
Oz has won Trump’s endorsement in the Senate election, 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 has called abortion “the No. 1 problem.” In a recent televised debate, Mastriano said he is in favor of banning abortion from conception, with no exceptions for rape, incest or maternal life.
Oz described himself as “pro-life” but said he would prefer an abortion ban in Pennsylvania with exceptions for rape, incest and maternal life.
“There are times when we disagree with other pro-life advocates,” Oz told the AP. “In my case, those disagreements often arise because as a doctor, I’ve dealt with issues that threaten the mother’s life.”
However, Oz kept his most focused criticism of Barnette, echoing Trump’s concern that her background had not been properly researched. He lashed out at her previous comments about Islam, noting that she also has a history of anti-gay comments.
“We know so little,” Oz said. “Every time she answers a question, she raises more questions. But I think it’s disqualifying to make Islamophobic and homophobic comments, not just for the general election, but also for the Republican primaries.”