Democratic Senate nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican nominee Mehmet Oz participate in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate debate at WHTM-TV’s studios in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (Photo by Gregory Nash/WHTM Television)
After facing questions about his health since suffering a stroke in May, John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, addressed what he called “the elephant in the room” just minutes into a debate against Mehmet Oz, his Republican opponent, on Tuesday.
“I had a stroke, and he’s never let me forget that. I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together,” Fetterman, who used closed-captioning to avoid missing words, said. “It knocked me down. But I’m going to keep coming back up.”
Oz, 62, has questioned Fetterman’s health in recent weeks. But the Democratic nominee was first to address his stroke and recovery during the televised, one-hour forum, saying his campaign is about “fighting for anyone in Pennsylvania that ever got knocked down that had to get back up again.” Fetterman, 53, would not commit to releasing in-depth medical records, citing a recently released doctor’s letter saying he is fit to serve in public office and referencing in-person events and speeches since he returned to the campaign trail in August.
It was the first and only debate in the high-profile race to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. The candidates lodged attacks that have played out on television advertisements and social media — clashing over their professional records, abortion, fracking, and economic issues — as they touted their views to gain an edge in the race that could determine political control in the upper chamber next year.
Fetterman, who has carried over carpetbagger accusations against Oz from the primary election, was quick to say that Oz is attempting to “buy” the U.S. Senate seat, attacking him for his “gigantic mansions” and personal contributions to his own campaign. He also accused the former television host of being a liar, calling it “the Oz rule.”
“If he’s on TV, he’s lying,” Fetterman said, referencing controversial and potentially dangerous products and treatments Oz promoted as a television host.
Oz responded by attacking Fetterman’s policies on crime, saying he advocates for releasing as many people with criminal convictions from prison as possible. Fetterman, who chairs the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, has faced repeated attacks for his crime-related policies from the Oz campaign, which only recently unveiled a plan to address crime rates.
Oz also went after Fetterman for holding an unarmed Black man at gunpoint in 2013, asking Fetterman — who was mayor of Braddock at the time of the incident — why he hasn’t apologized for his actions.
“These radical positions extend beyond crime to wanting to legalize all drugs, open the border, raising our taxes,” Oz said.
The candidates were asked to clarify their views on fracking, with debate moderators citing conflicting statements from both on the topic of natural gas extraction.
Oz called fracking “a lifeline” for Pennsylvania, adding that it creates the potential for jobs and to build wealth across the commonwealth. He also proposed building a facility in Philadelphia to export natural gas.
“If we unleashed our energy here, in Pennsylvania, it would help everybody,” he said.
Fetterman rejected claims that he’s flip-flopped on fracking, saying he “absolutely” supports it.
Asked to clarify his changing position, Fetterman, stumbling over his words, said he has “always” supported fracking.
The candidates drastically differed in their abortion views, with Fetterman saying he supports codifying Roe v. Wade into law and Oz supporting exceptions for rape, incest, and protecting the mother’s life.
Fetterman said he would support allocating federal funds to transport women who live in states where abortion is outlawed to states where it is legal to receive the procedure.
“I believe that abortion is healthcare, and I believe that is a choice that belongs with each woman and their doctor,” he said.
Asked how he would vote on U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s, R-S.C., proposed national abortion ban, which outlaws the procedure after 15 weeks, Oz said he opposes any federal legislation dictating states’ authority over abortion.
“I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all,” Oz said. “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that has always allowed our nation to thrive, to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”
Spokespeople for both campaigns spoke to reporters after the debate, each claiming success for their respective candidates.
Joe Calvello, the Fetterman campaign’s communications director, said the Democratic nominee did better on Tuesday than the primary debate.
“Debating has never been John’s strength — it wasn’t even before the stroke — yet he still managed to go toe to toe with a professional talk show host on live TV,” Calvello said in a statement. “John did what no one thought was possible, and his message was loud and clear: John will fight for Pennsylvania — Dr. Oz will only fight for himself.”
Casey Contres, the Oz campaign’s manager, said the debate showcased the contrast between the candidates, declaring victory for the Republican nominee.
“Radical John Fetterman couldn’t defend why he has repeatedly pushed for extreme policies like decriminalizing heroin, banning fracking, and pardoning cold-blooded murderers,” Contres said. “Dr. Oz articulated how he would restore balance to Washington and find common-sense solutions to lower costs for families and make our streets safer.”
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