Fetterman says he’ll debate Oz once in Pa. U.S. Senate race

There is ‘zero precedent in modern times’ to have U.S. Senate debates in Pa. in early September, Fetterman said

By: - September 8, 2022 9:04 am
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

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman will participate in one televised debate against Mehmet Oz, his Republican opponent in Pennsylvania, ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

After roughly a month of pressure from Oz, the Fetterman campaign said he plans to debate the celebrity doctor turned GOP candidate in the middle to end of October as the current lieutenant governor continues to recover and address the lingering issues from his May stroke.

The Fetterman campaign, which gave no additional details in the Wednesday announcement, said the Democratic nominee always planned to debate Oz, who has used Fetterman’s hesitancy to set a date to question his health and whether he’s fit to serve in office.

“But let’s be clear, this has never really been about debates for Dr. Oz,” Fetterman said in a written statement. “This whole thing has been about Dr. Oz and his team mocking me for having a stroke because they’ve got nothing else.”

He added that there is “zero precedent in modern times” to have U.S. Senate debates in Pennsylvania in early September.

“That was never going to happen,” Fetterman said. “All of these debates have always occurred in the middle to late October.”

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

Since returning to the campaign trail, Fetterman has faced relentless pressure from Oz to agree to a debate in the high-profile race to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who also joined Oz in calls for Fetterman to participate in a public forum.

Fetterman told POLITICO, which first reported Fetterman’s agreement to a debate, that his campaign is considering using a closed caption monitor to avoid missing words. 

The Oz campaign quickly characterized it as a “secret debate.”

“We don’t know where. We don’t know when. We don’t know how. It’s a big secret,” Brittany Yanick, communications director for the Oz campaign, said, adding that the Republican nominee will only agree to a “real” debate.

In his first televised interview since the stroke, Fetterman told MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle that he feels “amazing,” adding that he walks four to five miles every day and takes all the medications prescribed by his doctors.

“The only lingering issue is every now and then, I will have auditory processing, and I might miss a word every now and then, or I might mush two words together,” he said, noting that he expects to have a full recovery “over the next several months.”

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said there might be some 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.

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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