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Fetterman takes on Oz in Senate debate 5 months after stroke

By MARC LEVY and STEVE PEOPLES (Associated Press)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — More than five months after suffering a stroke, Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman struggled at times to explain his positions and often spoke hesitantly throughout a highly anticipated debate on Tuesday. against Republican Dr Mehmet Oz as they argued over a review. Seat of the Senate.

In the opening minutes of the debate, Fetterman talked about what he called “the elephant in the room.”

“I had a stroke. He never let me forget that,” Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, said of Oz, who constantly questioned his ability to serve in the Senate. “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.”

When pressed to divulge his medical records later in the debate, he refused to commit.

Oz, a famed heart surgeon, ignored his opponent’s health issues throughout the debate, instead snatching up Fetterman’s policies on immigration, crime and his support for President Joe Biden. At one point, Oz said that Fetterman was “trying to get as many murderers out of jail as possible.”

“His extreme positions made him untenable,” he charged.

The forum exhibited many of the trappings of a traditional debate, with heated exchanges and interruptions. But the impact of the attack was evident as Fetterman used captions displayed above the moderator to help him process the words he heard, which sometimes resulted in awkward pauses.

Oz has presented himself as a moderate Republican seeking to unite a divided state, although he has pledged to support former President Donald Trump should he run for president in 2024.

“I’m a surgeon, I’m not a politician,” Oz said. “We take big problems, focus on them and solve them. We do this by uniting, by bringing together, not by dividing.

Fetterman also pledged to support Biden should he run again in 2024.

The Democratic president campaigned with Fetterman in Pittsburgh during the Labor Day parade and last week headlined a fundraiser for Fetterman in Philadelphia. There, Biden said “the rest of the world is watching” and suggested a loss to Fetterman would jeopardize his agenda.

While backing Biden, Fetterman also said, “he needs to do more to support and fight inflation.”

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 delivered a direct message to women: “If you think the choice of abortion is yours and your doctor’s, that’s what I’m fighting for.

The biggest question to emerge from the debate was whether it would have a lasting impact with two weeks until the election and more than 600,000 ballots already cast. Rather than watching the whole hour, many Pennsylvanians can only see snippets of the event on social media. And both parties are preparing to flood the airwaves with television advertising in the final stretch.

Independent experts consulted by The Associated Press said Fetterman appears to be recovering remarkably well. 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.

Even before the debate, Democrats in Washington were concerned about Fetterman’s campaign given the stakes.

There’s no better pick-up opportunity for Democrats 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.

Fetterman’s speech problems were evident throughout the night. He often had trouble finishing his sentences.

When asked to explain his shifting stance on hydraulic fracturing, a critical issue in a state where thousands of jobs are tied to natural gas production, his response was particularly awkward.

“I support hydraulic fracturing. And I don’t, I don’t. I support fracking, and I stand up and support fracking,” Fetterman said.

At another point, the moderator appeared to cut Fetterman off as he struggled to finish a response defending Biden’s student debt forgiveness program. He also stumbled before finishing a key line of attack: “We need to make sure Dr. Oz and the Republicans believe in cutting Medicare and Social Security…”

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.

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 agree to more than one was 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.

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. .

Many Republicans were pleased with the outcome of the debate, though most — including Oz — tried to avoid worrying about Fetterman’s health.

Donald Trump Jr. was less cautious.

“If Fetterman is kind of a left-wing decoy to make Biden look somewhat smart and articulate, he’s doing a great job,” the former president’s son tweeted.

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

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Follow AP’s election coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

Visit https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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