CARLISLE, Pa. (AP) – Republican Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz is stepping up his criticism of far-right Pennsylvania candidates who are gaining momentum ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
After spending much of the campaign shying away from her Republican Senate colleague Kathy Barnette, Oz said Saturday she was not aligned with the GOP and could not win November’s general election. In an interview he took up a problem with a 2015 tweet von Barnette, in which she wrote that “pedophilia is a cornerstone of Islam”.
Oz, who would become the nation’s first Muslim senator, described the comments as “disqualifying”.
“It’s reprehensible that she’s tweeting something that slanders an entire religion,” Oz told The Associated Press. “This state was based on freedom of religion. As a Pennsylvanian, I take pride in upholding this core belief that there is merit in every faith.”
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 visible on her Twitter feed as of Saturday.
For months, the race for the Republican nomination for the open Pennsylvania Senate seat has been a costly battle between former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and Oz, who spent millions of dollars attacking each other on TV. Each was also faced with questions about their ties to Pennsylvania. McCormick grew up in the state while Oz attended medical school there and married in Philadelphia.
But in the final days of the Republican primary, a third candidate — Barnette, a conservative commentator who has courted hard-line pro-Trump groups — has emerged. Trump himself has warned that Barnette’s background has not been properly checked.
With the election just days away, polls show a close three-way race with a sizeable number of undecided voters poised to affect next week’s results.
Oz has won Trump’s support 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 newly minted election for Pennsylvania Gov. Doug Mastriano, a far-right conservative who has called abortion “the #1 problem.” In 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 described himself as “pro-life” but said he would prefer a Pennsylvania ban on abortion that would include exceptions for rape, incest and mother’s life.
“There are times when we disagree with other pro-life advocates,” Oz told the AP. “In my case, these disagreements often arise because, as a doctor, I have dealt with life-threatening issues affecting the mother.”
However, Oz saved his harshest criticism for Barnette, echoing Trump’s concerns that her background was not properly investigated. He lashed out at her earlier comments on Islam, noting that she also had a history of making anti-gay remarks.
“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 for the Republican primary.”
Associated Press writer Marc Levy of Harrisburg, Pa. contributed to this report.