In Pennsylvania Senate race, Fetterman’s stroke and Oz’s positions spur debate
The media and nation are divided over whether John Fetterman’s health or Mehmet Oz’s positions were more consequential in Tuesday’s debate
A national discussion has erupted among political observers about the difficulty Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, had speaking at the one and only debate against his opponent, Republican Mehmet Oz. Democrats see the Keystone State’s open Senate seat as their best pick-up opportunity, while Republicans view retaining retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat as crucial to their plan to take control of the chamber.
Political observers across the political spectrum have addressed Fetterman’s inability to fully comprehend moderator questions and to speak coherently at the debate. Fetterman suffered a stroke in May, just days before the Democratic primary. He wasn’t seen at public campaign events until mid-August and the lingering effects of the stroke were apparent at Tuesday’s debate.
One of the most important things to remember is Fetterman had his stroke before THE PRIMARY.— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) October 26, 2022
He and his wife covered it up and have continued to cover up the extent of it.
Pennsylvania voters — including Democrat voters — should be furious about this.
Objectively Oz is outperforming Fetterman. The stroke has obviously had a real impact. Fetterman’s struggling. But there is nothing likeable about Oz. He’s smirking, fast-talking, and I’m not sure he’s doing anything to reduce his unfavorables.— Sarah Longwell (@SarahLongwell25) October 26, 2022
Fetterman quickly addressed the stroke in his opening statements, calling it, “the elephant in the room.” He continued, “I had a stroke. He’s never let me forget that,” Fetterman said of Oz who has questioned whether Fetterman’s deteriorated health would inhibit his ability to carry out the duties of a senator. “And I might miss some words during the debate, mush two words together, but it knocked me down and I’m going to keep coming back up.”
Fetterman also reversed himself on his previous opposition to fracking. “I do support fracking, he said before momentarily pausing. “I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking.” His statement Tuesday contrasts with his comments in a 2018 interview, where he said, “I don’t support fracking at all and I never have, and I’ve signed the no fossil fuels money pledge.”
Oz’s comments on abortion and support for Donald Trump sparked commentary from the political left. “As a physician, I’ve been in the room when there’s some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all,” Oz said in reply to the moderator’s question regarding whether he supports a federal ban on abortion. “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves,” he said.
Oz also said he would support whoever wins the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. When asked specifically about whether he would support Trump, he added, “I would support Donald Trump if he decided to run for president, but this is bigger than one candidate.”
Social media posts about the debate flooded Twitter when it was over. Political commentators and operatives from the left and right scrutinized Fetterman’s inability to communicate. MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough described Fetterman’s communication as “seriously impaired.”
John Fetterman’s ability to communicate is seriously impaired. Pennsylvania voters will be talking about this obvious fact even if many in the media will not.— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) October 26, 2022
David Axelrod, a longtime Democratic political consultant, noted that Fetterman’s stroke was obviously still a cause for concern. He also didn’t think Oz helped himself win over undecided voters.
Fetterman needed to show he's sufficiently recovered, and this debate surely did not help.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) October 26, 2022
Oz needed to show authenticity, decency and connection. I'm sure his team is high-fiving tonight but he didn't help himself on those essential scores.
Maybe neither of them could.
Others pointed out that the criticism of NBC correspondent Dasha Burns, who spoke about Fetterman’s speech impairment after she interviewed him, was unfounded. Burns’ interview with Fetterman discussed his dependence on speech-to-text software to communicate, software he used during the debate as well. Some critics accused her reporting of being “ableist.”
I'm catching up on the debate, and it looks like lots of folks owe an apology to @DashaBurns. She reported on very real problems. It's not ableist to wonder if Fetterman is up to the job, and it's very reasonable for PA voters to take that question into account.— David French (@DavidAFrench) October 26, 2022
Never seen anything like this Fetterman performance. If anything the NBC reporter understated his condition— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) October 26, 2022
The question still remains whether the debate will move the needle among voters.
“It was tough,” Karin Tatela told CNN after watching the debate. “I told my friend, I said, ‘I don’t really want to watch, it is kind of like looking at a car accident.” However, she still plans to vote for Fetterman.
Other voters weren’t so sure. NewsNation’s Chris Cuomo talked with independent and Democratic voters after the debate who expressed serious concerns about Fetterman.
“He should not have debated … that debate may have tanked his campaign,” Chris Kofinis, a Democratic campaign strategist, told NBC. “This race was trending toward victory. Now, it’s anyone’s guess what happens.”
While it will take some time for pollsters to sort out whether the debate changed anyone’s vote, Tom Bevan, co-founder of RealClearPolitics, tweeted out how betting markets now heavily favor Oz to win in November.