A parody Twitter account created by a Pittsburgh-based paralegal is causing fresh headaches for the Senate campaign of Dr. Mehmet Oz.
The account, created earlier this month, mocks an April campaign video of the veteran TV host botching the name of a Redner’s grocery store as it casts the candidate as out of touch with the Pennsylvania voters he’s hoping to represent.
The campaign video shows the Republican walking through a Redner’s market in Pennsylvania, where he mispronounces the name of the store as “Wegners” and complains about inflation and the soaring costs of vegetables needed to make a “crudites” platter, which is more commonly known as a vegetable platter. Oz told Newsmax in a recent interview that he got the name of the store wrong because he was exhausted after campaigning 18 hours a day. “I’ve gotten my kids names wrong as well. I don’t think that’s a measure of someone’s ability to lead the commonwealth,” he said.
Jon Romanishin, a paralegal from Pennsylvania, jumped on Oz’s mispronunciation of the Redner’s grocery store chain to launch the parody Twitter account Monday @grocerieswegner or Wegner’s Groceries, which isn’t a real store. The Twitter bio reads “The Crudité Capital of Central PA.”
In a tweet that night, Romanishin embedded the Oz video and wrote “We repeatedly told @DrOz that we had pre-made veggie trays..excuse me ‘Crudité’…in the deli starting at $5.99. $7.99 with guacamole and salsa. Vote @JohnFetterman!” He told CNBC in an interview on Thursday that since he published the tweet, the video has received almost 4 million views.
Oz’s original video has been shared more than 300 times on Facebook and 600 times on Twitter, reaching more than 250,000 people, while the parody tweet has been shared over 4,000 times on Facebook and 62,000 times on Twitter, reaching more than 32 million people, according to social media tracking site CrowdTangle.
John Fetterman, his Democratic Party rival running for the same Pennsylvania Senate seat, seized on the free social media, relentlessly mocking Oz for his use of the high-brow term crudites, a French word that’s pronounced kroo-de-tay. His campaign raised $500,000 within 24 hours of the video’s release on social media.
Fetterman and Oz are vying for a Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. A Real Clear Politics polling average has Fetterman ahead of Oz by around 8 percentage points.
Since the Monday launch, the Twitter account now has more than 23,000 followers, including Fetterman’s campaign account.
Mary Anne Marsh, a veteran Democratic Party strategist, told CNBC that the account represents how the digital age has transformed campaigns and that sometimes, to give a boost to a candidate, all it takes is someone with a social media account. “Anyone with a social media account can now change a race as much as any ad, story or debate,” she said. “That puts more political power in the hands of people and when used well it’s good for democracy.”
The Wegner’s campaign account itself was so convincing that it had political strategists and celebrities seemingly convinced that either it was made by a member of Fetterman’s social media team or that the Wegner’s store was real.
“In future campaign trainings I facilitate I will be using the Oz Grocery video on what to not do when you want to relate to voters, but I will also contrast it with how on point the Fetterman digital campaign has been,” Atima Omara, a party strategist, tweeted in response to the Wegner’s account tweet. Ken Olin, an actor, said in response to the Wegner’s account trolling Oz “Ooof. You know you’re losing when a grocery store trolls you.”
Norm Eisen, who was former President Barack Obama’s ethics chief, said the video “will tank Oz.”
Romanishin, who said he voted for Fetterman in the Democratic primary but isn’t affiliated with the campaign and wasn’t paid to create the account, subsequently published other tweets taking aim at Oz’s campaign video, and, according to his account’s Twitter data that he shared with CNBC, all of his tweets combined have over 16 million impressions.
“It’s just so ridiculous and it just kind of shows what a fraud Dr. Oz is, I thought. And then I just kind of latched onto him using the name wrong,” Romanishin said in explaining why he launched the Twitter account. “I thought I’m going to do this just for a laugh.” He said he plans to vote for Fetterman again in the general election in November versus Oz.
Romanishin worked to troll Oz’s grocery store visit by teaming up through Twitter with T.J. Harley, a graphic designer and president of Atlanta-based Harley Creative. The company’s website says they’re a design studio specializing in graphic design and visual communication strategies.
Harley says that shortly after the video and Wegner’s Groceries account was launched, he decided to create a few of his own posts mocking the Oz grocery store debacle and tweet out his own ads taking aim at the Republican Senate candidate’s trip to the market.
“I sort of stumbled on that video. Dr. Oz at the grocery store. Overpricing the vegetables and calling it Wegners and buying salsa and tequila. It was totally ridiculous. Somehow I later stumbled upon the Twitter account somebody made,” Harley said. “I don’t even know the guy. I just thought it was funny. He only had less than 100 followers at the time.”
On Tuesday, Harley tweeted ads at Romanishin Wegner’s account mocking Oz, including one that featured a shopping bag and vegetables with the text on the poster reading “Wegner’s Groceries. Your crudite headquarters.” Harley’s tweet on Tuesday read “first ad campaign.” He says he made the spots on his Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop at home.
Another Harley ad shows a bottle of tequila with the Wegner’s logo, and the accompanying text reading “crudite or veggie tray? Tequila makes it A-OK.”
Harley showed CNBC examples of the Wegner’s t-shirts he made. Since posting them on the website Cotton Bureau, he’s sold at least 50 for $30 each. Romanishin said he bought two of the T-shirts and plans to wear one to a Fetterman fundraiser in Pittsburgh that’s scheduled to take place by the end of the month.