U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Mehmet Oz host a press conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. (Screenshot)
Retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey joined GOP candidate Mehmet Oz in calls for John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, to participate in a debate ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.
Toomey and Oz, speaking at a news conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, also questioned whether Fetterman — who suffered a stroke in May — is fit to serve in public office, citing his reluctance to speak to the press and being sidelined from the campaign trail up until last month.
“John Fetterman is either healthy, and he’s dodging the debates because he does not want to answer for his radical left positions, or he’s too sick to participate in the debate,” Oz, who would replace Toomey if elected, said.
Since Fetterman returned to the campaign trail — holding a public rally in Erie, participating in a handful of fundraisers, and making an appearance at a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh with President Joe Biden — the Oz campaign has relentlessly called on him to engage in a televised debate.
Oz agreed to five debate invitations, with two cancellations this month after Fetterman declined. The first debate, hosted by Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV, would have been Tuesday night. The second, organized by WFMZ-TV and the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, was slated for Friday; however, Oz announced its cancellation last week, citing Fetterman’s refusal.
Fetterman has not ruled out a public forum before the Nov. 8 election. His campaign, which has stated that Fetterman’s doctor said he should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate, has dismissed Oz’s push for one as a distraction tactic and made it “abundantly clear” that Oz thinks it’s “funny to mock a stroke survivor.”
This isn’t the first time Fetterman has faced accusations of hiding from debates. After he skipped a televised forum ahead of the May primary election, his Democratic opponents said he was afraid of answering questions about his record.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said pushing debates off until closer to Election Day is a “textbook strategy” to minimize possible attacks from opponents.
Samuel Chen, an Allentown-based political strategist who has worked for Toomey, told the Capital-Star that “dodging debates is a serious thing.” However, he added that debates don’t win elections, saying the forums have turned into “political theater” with condensed formats and tight time limits that don’t allow candidates to discuss policy at length.
Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-based political consultant, argued that debates are the best place for voters to see how candidates handle tough questions and present themselves. He added that he’s hopeful the candidates will face off in person, especially since Oz and Fetterman have kept their attacks online and through television ads.
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.”
Toomey, issuing support for Oz and condemning Fetterman’s policies, said the Democratic candidate is either avoiding having his “radical record” scrutinized or because of his health. And if it’s because of his ongoing recovery, “then he should just say so,” he added.
Toomey, who first started serving in the U.S. Senate in 2011, said Fetterman is not up for the job if he cannot “communicate effectively” or engage with the press and his colleagues. He added that while people with disabilities have served “very capably,” it “depends on the nature of the disability.”
“You can’t do the job of [a] U.S. senator sitting at home, firing off snarky tweets. It’s a demanding job. It requires extensive time on the road — long days and nights. It involves lots of communication with the public, the press, constituents, colleagues, and committees on the Senate floor in many different environments,” Toomey said. “And based on what I’ve seen from the videos of his very few public appearances, I have my doubts about whether John Fetterman is up to the job.”
Toomey added: “Maybe that’ll change in coming months, in coming years. I certainly hope his condition improves, but that would be a real gamble for Pennsylvanians.”
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