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opinion

Mehmet Oz, left, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, speaks during a campaign event in Malvern, Pa., on Oct. 15.Laurence Kesterson/The Associated Press

Jen Gerson is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.

Could there be a more American success story circa 2022 than that of Mehmet Oz?

The celebrity doctor began his career as a highly promising medical student with degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. Who knows what breakthroughs in medicine he might have contributed to had he not, instead, decided to shill in his scrubs on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

After years of giving medical advice on daytime television, Dr. Oz went on to host his own series, which steadily devolved into the TV equivalent of Women’s World magazine, except with more ads for “miraculous” weight-loss drugs, dubious supplements and borderline confidence schemes.

And because we are living in the wildest timeline, Dr. Oz decided to make the obvious next step in his career trajectory: politics. This hustler is now running to represent Pennsylvania as a Republican senator – even though he doesn’t live in the state.

Dr. Oz ought to be political roadkill. He may very well win.

Yes, Dr. Oz has significant name recognition in the high-stakes race, which the Democrats need to win to retain the balance of power in the Senate. Further, his challenger, John Fetterman, suffered a stroke in May and struggled in a recent debate. It’s also true that the U.S.’s midterm elections tend to punish the party of the president elected two years prior down the ticket.

So the midterm board has been fairly stacked against the Democrats. On the flip side, the GOP is now Donald Trump in a skin suit. This is the party whose Supreme Court appointments just led to the unpopular overturning of Roe v. Wade, ensuring that this generation of American women will be the first to enjoy fewer constitutionally protected rights than their mothers and grandmothers. And the Jan. 6 committee demonstrated Trumpworld’s complicity in a basement-dweller’s putsch.

Surely, it shouldn’t be that hard for the Democrats to buck history and maintain control of the House and Senate; they ought to be able to win Pennsylvania with three children in a trench coat.

And yet Dr. Oz could be just one of the improbable candidates propelling a “red wave” of Republican midterm victories. How is that even possible?

Abortion has now been banned entirely in the state of Louisiana. In Oklahoma, it’s banned in all cases, except those of life endangerment, rape or incest. Elsewhere, other state-level Republicans are crafting abortion laws that are unpalatably severe, even to the majority of those in the party.

Generally speaking, Democrats have been far more motivated by abortion rights of late. But they have proven so beholden to the most extreme pro-choice members of their own base that they seem unable to find a winning attack angle. Republicans, on the other hand, seem more focused on inflation, the economy and crime.

Common wisdom suggests that the party that can eke out the electoral edge is the one that can set the ballot question. If Americans are more focused on abortion on election day, for instance, Democrats will be more successful in drawing out their supporters; the same is true for Republicans and pocketbook issues.

With less than a week left, the polls are speaking – and I’m sorry to say that somehow, it appears that abortion isn’t the winning issue.

Less than six months after Roe v. Wade was overturned, America’s attention appears to have shifted. The anger and anguish that once boosted the Democrats’ prospects through large increases in registered voters seems to have fizzled out. Only a relatively small number of people are likely to be destroyed by a lack of abortion access, but a 10-per-cent pay cut because of inflation – well, that hits everybody.

Obviously, I won’t defend this line of reasoning. I can only note the obvious pattern that appears to be emerging in public life: Whether on serious issues of race, sexual harassment or abortion, the mass frenzies that have swept through our society in recent years haven’t really panned out into meaningful or lasting change.

True reform takes patience, organization and commitment; it requires activists who are willing to engage with the system and persuade voters over time. Politics is also the art of sussing out where an electorate really is, and what its real, daily concerns are; social-media histrionics, cancellations, daily buzzwords and virtue-signalling can dissipate quickly if too many voters are struggling to heat their homes or eat three square meals a day.

If there are lessons to be learned for Canada from this emerging horror show, it’s that one of our leaders seems to understand this truism better than the others.

And at least we don’t have our own Dr. Oz.