Fetterman, in debate with Oz, vows to ‘keep coming back’


This combination of file photos shows Democratic Senate candidate, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, left, and Republican Senate candidate, Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2022 photos. (AP Photo)
The Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman would not commit to releasing his full medical records during a highly anticipated debate against Republican Mehmet Oz on Tuesday, speaking hesitantly throughout the hour-long event more than five months after suffering a stroke.

Fetterman, the 53-year-old lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, admitted he “nearly died” after suffering a stroke in May. On Tuesday night, he addressed what he called “the elephant in the room.”

“I had a stroke. He never let me forget that,” Fetterman said of his Republican opponent. “And I might miss a few words during this debate, jumble two words together, but it blew me away and I’m going to keep coming back.”

He also quickly attempted to go on the offensive, attacking the “gigantic mansions” of Oz and its integrity.

“It’s the rule of Oz: he’s on TV and he’s lying,” Fetterman said.

Oz, a famed heart surgeon, ignored his opponent’s health throughout the debate, though he hammered Fetterman on the issue several times during the campaign. On Tuesday night, Oz attacked Fetterman’s crime policy, saying he was “trying to get as many murderers out of jail as possible.”

“These radical positions go beyond the crime,” charged Oz. He later added: “His extreme positions made him untenable”.

Fetterman insisted he was ready to meet the demands of the Senate as he continues to recover from the stroke. Independent experts consulted by The Associated Press said he appears to be recovering remarkably well. He used captioning during the debate to help him process the words he hears.

Stroke rehabilitation specialist Dr. Sonia Sheth, who watched the debate, called Fetterman an inspiration to stroke survivors.

“In my opinion, he did very well,” said Sheth of Northwestern Medicine Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in suburban Chicago. “He had his stroke less than a year ago and will continue to recover over the next year. He made a few mistakes in his answers, but overall he was able to formulate fluid and thoughtful responses.

Auditory processing problems do not mean someone also has cognitive problems, experts agreed. The language network of the brain is different from the regions involved in decision-making and critical thinking.

While debates have rarely influenced elections in the modern era, the intense national interest in the prime-time affair – particularly in Fetterman’s performance – has suggested that this debate could prove decisive in a election at the heart of the Democrats’ urgent fight to retain their majority in the Senate.

For Democrats, there’s no better pick-up opportunity in the United States than the race to replace retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey in a state Biden narrowly carried in 2020.

For much of the year, it looked like Fetterman was the clear frontrunner, especially as Republicans fought a nasty nomination battle that left the GOP divided and bitter. But as Election Day approached, the race tightened. And now, just two weeks before the final vote, even the White House privately fears that Fetterman’s candidacy is in jeopardy.

Voting is already well underway across the state. By Tuesday, 639,000 votes had already been cast.

“The debate is a very big one, bigger than usual for a debate in the Senate,” said Republican activist Charles Gerow, a two-decade veteran of political talk shows on Sunday television.

The Pennsylvania Senate candidates squared off at a Harrisburg television studio. No audience was allowed, and debate host Nexstar Media refused to allow an AP photographer access to the event.

The meeting was the first and only major statewide debate this year in Pennsylvania, as Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano could not reach an agreement on terms for a debate at the post of governor.

Fetterman is a nationally progressive political star, having developed a loyal following in part through his brutal working-class appeal, extraordinary height, tattoos, and unapologetic progressive politics. On Tuesday, the 6-foot-9 Democrat swapped his hoodie and shorts for a dark suit and tie.

But Fetterman’s health has become a central issue in the final weeks of the election, even as candidates elsewhere clash over issues including abortion, crime and inflation.

Oz had pushed for more than half a dozen debates, suggesting that Fetterman’s reluctance to accept more than one is because the stroke had weakened him. Fetterman insisted that one debate is typical — though two are more usual — and that Oz’s focus on debates was a cynical ploy to lie about his health.

Fetterman’s speech challenges apparently lasted all night. He often had trouble finishing his sentences.

When asked to explain his shifting stance on hydraulic fracturing, his response was particularly awkward.

“I support fracking and I support fracking,” he said.

Democrats noted that the televised debate setting likely would have favored Oz even without questions about the stroke.

Oz is a longtime television personality who hosted “The Dr. Oz Show” weekdays for 13 seasons after debuting as a regular guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show in 2004. Fetterman, in however, is a less experienced public speaker who is introverted by nature. .

“It was always going to be an away game for John Fetterman,” said Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-based Democratic political consultant.

Fetterman requested, and received, a captioning system for the debate that displayed everything that was said in writing on a large screen behind the moderators.

The Fetterman campaign said in a memo before the debate that closed captioning would be “typed by humans in real time, on live television,” warning that it could lead to delays, transcription errors and miscommunication. “It’s uncontrollable and unavoidable,” the memo reads.

Abortion was a major dividing line during the debate.

Oz insists he supports three exceptions – for rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother. Pressed on Tuesday night, he suggested he oppose South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill to impose a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks because it would allow the federal government to dictate the law. to the states.

“I’m not going to support federal rules that block states’ ability to do whatever they want,” Oz said.

Fetterman said he would vote for legislation from Democrats in Congress to allow abortion up to 24 weeks pregnant. He also said separately that he was not in favor of imposing restrictions on abortion and preferred to let women decide.

“I want to examine the face of every woman in Pennsylvania: If you think the choice of your reproductive freedom is Dr. Oz’s, that’s your choice. But if you think the choice of abortion is yours and your doctor’s, that’s what I’m fighting for,” Fetterman said.

Fetterman also raised questions about the residence of Oz, which was a constant theme throughout the campaign.

For much of the year, Fetterman captured Oz’s tenuous ties to the state in witty social media posts and media campaigns.

Oz was born in Ohio, raised in Delaware and has lived in New Jersey for decades. In 2020, People magazine published an article about the New Jersey mansion that Oz and his wife Lisa “built from scratch 20 years ago”.

Later that year, Oz officially adopted a Pennsylvania address. And the following year, 2021, he launches his senatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, questions about Fetterman’s physical and mental strength persisted.

Pressed Tuesday night, Fetterman declined to say he would release his medical records.

“To me, transparency is about showing up,” he said.

Fetterman has always pushed back on calls to release medical records or let reporters interview his doctors. Last week, he posted a note from his attending physician, which wrote that Fetterman is recovering well, showing no cognitive effects and “can work full-time in public service.”

Fetterman’s campaign insists he is healthier than ever now that he is paying more attention to his diet and daily exercise routine of walking several miles a day. He attends regular sessions with a speech therapist and takes medication.

People reported from New York. AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed from Washington State.


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