For Pa.’s Fetterman, a post-debate show of strength — and solidarity

‘Doing that debate wasn’t easy,’ the Democratic nominee told supporters, with musician Dave Matthews at his side

By: - October 27, 2022 2:18 pm

Then-Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman addresses supporters during an event in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, 10/27/22 (Capital-Star photo by Ethan Dodd).

PITTSBURGH – On Wednesday night, as John Fetterman took the stage with singer-songwriter and musician Dave Matthews, the Democratic Senate nominee had a question.

 “How many … of you have had your own personal major health challenge? … There’s a lot more of us to be rooting against Dr. Oz,” he said.

On Tuesday night, Fetterman faced Republican rival  Mehmet Oz in the race’s only publicly televised debate before election day on Nov. 8. 

Some Democratic public figures from Pennsylvania, including former Gov. Ed Rendell, worried about his performance, according to The New York Times. Republican officials also questioned his fitness for office. 

Fetterman gave a number of jumbled and misleading answers during the debate, but he anticipated these in his opening remarks, “I had a stroke. He never let me forget that. I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together.”

Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s current  lieutenant governor, continues to have auditory processing issues after suffering a stroke in May, days before he won the Democratic primary.

“Doing that debate wasn’t exactly easy,” Fetterman told his and Matthew’s fans at Stage AE in Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

“I don’t think that’s ever been done before in American political history before,” he emphasized. 

Musician Dave Matthews entertains — and exhorts — supporters of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman during an event in Pittsburgh on Wednesday,10/27/22 (Capital-Star photo by Ethan Dodd).

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., had several years to recover from a severe stroke in 2012 before debating Democrat Tammy Duckworth during his 2016 reelection campaign.  Duckworth won the race.

Fetterman’s wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman told the crowd that Fetterman proved on the debate stage that “he is a badass. John is courageous and he’s strong.”

Strength has become a focal point of Fetterman’s campaign. 

“After that struggle, I got knocked down but I got back up,” he said, then bellowed, “I’m gonna fight for everyone in Pennsylvania who ever got knocked down, that ever had to get back up!”

After the crowd’s hands rose in solidarity with Fetterman’s health, he said, “I hope that when you had those challenges with your loved ones, I hope you didn’t have a doctor in your life making fun of it or ridiculing that. But unfortunately I do.”

Last month, the Oz campaign mocked and questioned Fetterman’s fitness to serve when he agreed to only participate in a single debate in late October with closed captioning. 

In early September, Oz claimed Fetterman was “dodging debates because he does not want to answer for his radical left positons, or he’s too sick to participate in the debate,” NBC News reported.

The campaign has since changed focus from Fetterman’s health to his opponent’s views on addressing crime.

Still, Fetterman called out Oz’s credentials as a surgeon while bringing some levity to his disability.

“By January I’m gonna be feeling even better, but he will still be a fraud,” Fetterman said. “This is a guy that’s made millions of dollars scamming people. He sold miracle kinds of cures that I can’t even pronounce, even before the stroke.”

The joke warmed the audience up for Matthews’s solo guitar and vocals.

Fetterman welcomed him, “I’m gonna be standing on the same stage as an artist that made part of the soundtrack of my life.”

Matthews took the stage and bowed before Fetterman with a smile. The two shook hands. Then, Matthews turned his back to the audience to show off his Fetterman hoody.

“There ain’t nothing like the real thing and John Fetterman is the real thing,” he said as he began to play.

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Ethan Dodd
Ethan Dodd

Correspondent Ethan Dodd covers western Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @ethandasaxman.