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Democrats are trying to turn the GOP’s 2024 Senate contenders into Dr. Oz

Framing Republican candidates as carpetbaggers has become key to Democrats' strategies in top Senate races such as those in Montana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Side by side of Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick.
Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick.AP file

Democrats had a field day beating Mehmet Oz two years ago, relentlessly branding the TV doctor-turned-Senate candidate in Pennsylvania as a crudité-loving carpetbagger from New Jersey.

Now, in another election cycle that could tip the balance of power in the chamber, Democrats are attempting to replicate — and expand — that strategy in several of the year's most competitive races.

Once again in Pennsylvania, Democrats have aggressively seized Republican front-runner Dave McCormick’s travels back-and-forth from his mansion in Connecticut. In Michigan, Democrats have pushed an unflattering narrative about former Rep. Mike Rogers, who returned home to run for Senate after relocating to Florida. And in Montana, they have nicknamed two GOP hopefuls as “Transplant Tim” and “Maryland Matt” — even though both have lived in the state for years.

“Senate Republicans’ roster of candidates is full of carpetbaggers with tenuous ties to the states they’re running in,” said Tommy Garcia, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “These out-of-state GOP Senate candidates are badly out of touch with the voters that they want to represent and it will lead their campaigns to defeat in 2024.”

McCormick faced similar residency questions in 2022, when he lost to Oz in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary. But he has a clearer path to the nomination this year, and Democrats working to re-elect Sen. Bob Casey have accused McCormick of lying about where he lives because of a mansion he rents along the Long Island Sound in Westport, Connecticut. 

A Gulf War veteran and former hedge fund manager, McCormick keeps a home in Pittsburgh and owns a long-held family farm in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. He has children from a previous marriage and acknowledges spending time at the Connecticut home when visiting his youngest daughter, who is finishing high school there.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party officials routinely circulate stories and details about the mansion, which includes a 1,500-bottle wine cellar, The Associated Press reported last year. They point out how McCormick recently dodged when asked where he spends most of his time. When McCormick began a bus tour last weekend, Casey’s campaign sent a mobile billboard to one event to advertise the fact that he was “216 miles away” from Westport. 

McCormick also did himself no favors last fall when he mispronounced the name of Pennsylvania’s beloved Yuengling beer on a conservative podcast — a blunder reminiscent of the time Oz went shopping for items to assemble a crudité platter and butchered the name of a local grocery store chain.

Asked about the residency issue for this story, a McCormick spokesperson referred NBC News to an interview McCormick gave this month to NBC affiliate WJAC in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

“I do go to Connecticut to see my daughter, and that’s a part of being a good dad, and I’m going to continue to do that,” McCormick said in the interview. “I rent a home there so I can do that when I’m there. And if there’s a political cost associated with that, so be it.”

Elsewhere, Democrats delighted in sharing a recent article from Michigan Advance headlined, “Where is Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood?”— a report that highlighted the home that Mike Rogers and his wife own in Cape Coral, Florida. The home is valued at nearly $1.7 million, and the couple claimed a $50,000 homestead exemption on their last property tax bill, records show. 

“Michigan families won’t be fooled by Rogers after he abandoned them for Florida and walked through the revolving door to enrich himself with cushy corporate gigs,” said Sam Chan, a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party.

GOP operatives tracking the race counter that Rogers’ residency issues aren’t much different than those that once dogged Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democratic Senate candidate who had worked in the Bush and Obama administrations before she returned to Michigan to run for Congress in 2018.

Rogers re-established residency in Michigan last year, but his roots in the state run deep. He was a state senator and represented a Lansing-area district in Congress for 14 years before retiring in 2015 and moving into the private sector. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has endorsed him in a crowded GOP primary. 

“Michigan is and always has been home for Mike and Kristi Rogers. It’s where they went to grade school, where they graduated from Adrian College and Michigan State, and where Mike’s and Kristi’s parents were school teachers and community leaders,” Rogers spokesperson Chris Gustafson said.

In Montana, meanwhile, Democratic allies of Sen. Jon Tester are attempting to cast his potential GOP opponents as Big Sky posers and relative newcomers in a state where authenticity is often measured by how long your family has lived there.

Rep. Matt Rosendale has been elected to several offices since moving to the state in 2002, but Democrats still emphasize his Maryland roots. His NRSC-backed rival for the GOP nomination, Minnesota native and aerospace entrepreneur Tim Sheehy, has even poked fun at his accent.

“In the end, I really don’t think it matters for me,” Tester, who boasts about his work on the Montana dirt farm that’s been in his family for generations, told NBC News last week after Rosendale entered the race. “It’s either an out-of-stater that [Senate GOP Leader Mitch] McConnell’s picked or out-of-stater that McConnell hasn’t picked.”

Democrats have scrutinized the Republicans’ ranching bona fides and have mocked Sheehy’s false contention that Montana has more bears than people. This week, the Montana Democratic Party let loose a mobile billboard featuring an ad that frames Sheehy as an “out-of-state tech millionaire … playing cowboy.”

“Maryland Matt and Transplant Tim may try to hide their out-of-state roots, but Montanans have a nose for the bull,” said Hannah Rehm, a Montana Democratic Party spokesperson.

Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL, visited Montana as a child and on training missions in 2010 and 2011, a spokesperson for his campaign said. After Sheehy left the Navy and his wife left the Marines,” the spokesperson added, the couple “chose to make Montana home to raise their family and start a business because it was a place consistent with their values.” 

Democrats are also likely to bring their anti-carpetbagger messaging to Wisconsin, where Republican Eric Hovde, who lost a 2012 Senate primary in the state, is preparing for another run. Allies of Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin already are highlighting the bank he runs in California, where he has been named as one of Orange County’s most influential people. A source close to Hovde rejected the attacks, noting that he is a prominent real estate developer in the state, a “fourth generation Wisconsinite” and “Wisconsin through and through.”

The Democratic strategy is in part a byproduct of GOP efforts this cycle to recruit more wealthy Senate candidates who can self-fund their campaigns. But prospects like McCormick, Sheehy and Hovde also bring potential baggage along with their wealth.

“Senate races are so big, and there are so many resources that go behind defining the candidates, that a lot of times these races come down to which candidate seems like they’re more of their state than the other,” said Justin Barasky, a Democratic strategist and veteran of Senate campaigns. “Republicans over the years have suffered with candidate quality, and it’s cost them races in numerous states. It appears their strategy has become to recruit candidates from outside of the states to run, because they think these candidates will be more acceptable on the issues.”

NRSC communications director Mike Berg countered that his party’s candidates represent a positive contrast to long-serving senators like Casey and Tester.

“While Republicans have recruited a roster of political outsiders with experience in the military and private sector, Senate Democrats are running the same out of touch, career politicians who have spent decades in Washington making life worse for everyday Americans,” Berg said. “We’ll take that matchup every time.” 

It’s not clear how much the carpetbagger attacks contributed to Oz’s nearly 5-point loss in 2022. Democrat John Fetterman frequently mocked Oz as an opportunistic interloper and trolled him on social media with New Jersey-related gags. In a Wednesday post on X, Fetterman recalled “the storied love affair of Dr. Oz and New Jersey” while “wishing a happy Valentine’s Day to my new favorite couple, Dave McCormick and Connecticut.”

Polls showed that voters developed highly unfavorable views of Oz. But Democratic messaging closer to Election Day focused more on his stance on abortion and his promotion of dubious medical treatments.

An adviser close to Oz’s campaign, who requested anonymity to share candid recollections, did not believe the carpetbagger attacks were fatal, but acknowledged that they were distracting.

“I don’t think we ever did an ad that was like, ‘I’m from Pennsylvania.’ We never responded to it because we never thought it was a problem,” the source added. “I could see the McCormick campaign spending a little more time on it, just because Bob Casey is like Mr. Pennsylvania. There’s no way Dave will ever out-Pennsylvania Bob Casey, so it’s not really worth him focusing on it.”