John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, took a major step Friday in his return to the campaign trail by holding his first rally since suffering a stroke in May.
“Tonight for me is about being grateful,” Fetterman said in remarks that lasted just over 10 minutes. “Three months ago, my life could have ended.”
The 52-year-old lieutenant governor thanked his wife for taking action in mid-May after she admitted he had symptoms of a stroke just two days before winning the Democratic primary.
“Gisele saved my life,” Fetterman said at the event in Erie.
His appearance came just hours after GOP rival and famed doctor Mehmet Oz challenged Fetterman to five debates in an effort to boost his odds against the Democratic frontrunner and indirectly draw attention to Fetterman’s health.
Surgeons implanted a pacemaker with a defibrillator to regulate Fetterman’s heartbeat after his stroke, which quickly raised concerns about when he would return to the campaign trail.
During his recovery, Fetterman said that before the stroke, he suffered from heart symptoms, but did not follow doctors or take recommended medications.
Republicans have slammed Fetterman’s campaign for posting highly edited videos of the candidate that they say intentionally conceal speech issues he claims stemmed from the stroke.
Fetterman maintained a comfortable lead in the polls and spent more Oz on TV ads, but said at Friday’s rally he would approach the race as if he had fallen behind.
“It’s no secret how I’m going to win,” Fetterman said. “We’re still going to race like we’re still five points behind.”