The Lead

Pa.’s U.S. Senate candidates could debate on Oct. 25. Here’s what to know

By: - September 14, 2022 3:37 pm
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

The first televised debate, and likely only, between Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate candidates might take place two weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee, announced Wednesday afternoon that he has agreed to face off against Mehmet Oz, his Republican opponent, in a debate hosted by Nexstar Television on Oct. 25, broadcasting statewide.

The announcement comes after more than a month of pressure from Oz, who has used Fetterman’s hesitancy to set a date to question his health and whether he’s fit to serve in office since suffering a stroke in May. Retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey joined in calls for Fetterman to agree to a debate earlier this month.

Fetterman, who is still struggling with auditory processing, previously said he was considering using a closed caption monitor to avoid missing words.

The Oz campaign said Fetterman requested two practice sessions in the studio ahead of the debate so the Democratic nominee could get used to the closed caption system.

Oz said he would agree to the debate if moderators explain that Fetterman is using the system, which could cause delays in response time, and that questions asked during the “practice” sessions bear “zero resemblance” to the actual debate questions. Oz also asked Nexstar to extend the debate from one hour to an hour and a half, saying it’s “unfair to viewers interested in the candidates’ positions to waste airtime while closed captioners type questions and answers.”

Last week, Fetterman agreed to debate Oz once before Election Day, saying there is “zero precedent in modern times” to hold U.S. Senate debates in Pennsylvania in early September. 

In 2016, the first general election U.S. Senate debate in Pennsylvania occurred on Oct. 17. In 2018, the debate happened on Oct. 20.

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said there might be additional pressure for Fetterman to agree to a debate and address potential concerns about his health. But overall, he said pushing them off until closer to Election Day is a “textbook strategy” to minimize possible attacks from opponents.

The Fetterman campaign used a similar approach ahead of the May primary election. Fetterman skipped one Democratic debate, which resulted in accusations that he was avoiding questions about his record.

“Enough distractions. It’s time to talk about the issues,” Rebecca Katz, senior advisor to the Fetterman campaign, said in a written statement. “While John will be debating Dr. Oz next month, Oz doesn’t have to wait that long to be honest with Pennsylvania voters about where he really stands on abortion.”

Since audio from a tele-town hall, held one week before the May primary election, resurfaced, Fetterman has capitalized on Oz’s conflicting statements on abortion. In the recording, first reported by The Daily Beast, Oz said: “Life starts at conception.”

But last week, Oz said he does not support criminal penalties for people who sought or doctors who performed abortions. Describing himself as “strongly pro-life,” he added that he supports exceptions for rape, incest, or if the mother’s life is at risk.

A spokesperson for the Oz campaign reiterated that support in a statement to the Capital-Star on Wednesday.

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