The eyes of the political world turned to Harrisburg Tuesday night for the high-stakes U.S. Senate debate, but it was John Fetterman’s performance that overshadowed any sniping over well-covered issues.
In what was considered a pivotal moment for the heated contest, Fetterman’s consistently stilted speech and jumbled sentences in the rapid-fire debate format are likely to fuel more questions about his health following a May 13 stroke.
Fetterman opens the debate:
"Hi. Good night everybody." pic.twitter.com/mg0X3Iwf5D
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) October 26, 2022
Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, came out swinging against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz saying, “I’m running to serve Pennsylvania. He’s running to use Pennsylvania.”
Addressing his stroke, Fetterman said, “It’s knocked me down, but I’m going to keep coming back up.”
Oz said that he was running for the Senate “because Washington keeps getting it wrong with extreme positions,” insisting that Fetterman falls into that category.
“John Fetterman takes everything to an extreme and it hurts us all,” Oz said.
But, given the debate format, Fetterman stumbled again and again to express his thoughts quickly, pausing for words in clipped sentences. Two large screens showing closed captioned questions and answers sat behind moderators Lisa Sylvester of Pittsburgh’s WPXI-TV and ABC27 News’ Dennis Owens for the candidates to see.
Asked about his fitness to serve and releasing his medical records to provide transparency, Fetterman said that speaking to thousands of voters at rallies across the state is being transparent and his doctor said he’s able to serve.
Oz: "Fetterman didn't pay for his own house. He got it for a dollar from his sister."
Fetterman: "He got his Pennsylvania house from his own in ladies for $1. That's typical." pic.twitter.com/Es1jlhX5kB
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) October 26, 2022
FETTERMAN: "How can a man, you know, with with 10 gigantic mansion has am willing to talk about willing wage for anybody? Imagine a signal mom trying with two children trying to raise with them." pic.twitter.com/hbqePfo8Of
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) October 26, 2022
“My doctor believes that I’m fit to be serving and that’s what I believe is where I’m standing,” Fetterman said, declining to commit to providing access to more complete records.
Fetterman’s campaign tried to tamp down expectations leading up to the debate, releasing a memo that said Oz has a “built-in advantage” from years spent on TV and that a studio is Oz’s “comfort zone.”
With Fetterman using closed captioning during the debate to assist him as he continues to have auditory processing issues, his campaign said it expected “Oz’s allies and right-wing media” to share “malicious viral videos” post-debate that focus on “awkward pauses, missing some words, and mushing other words together.”
Fetterman’s campaign has said the stroke did not affect his cognitive ability and that his speaking should improve as he continues with speech therapy.
As he wrestled to articulate answers to a wide array of questions on abortion, fracking, crime, inflation and foreign policy, Fetterman looked nothing like he did in a more relaxed hourlong interview with the PennLive editorial board earlier this month that was live-streamed. He also used closed captioning in that meeting, but had more time to speak than the 15-, 30- and 60-seconds allowed in the debate.
In 2016, John Fetterman signed a pledge to BAN fracking. pic.twitter.com/Wr4bsLwRp1
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 26, 2022
Last week, Fetterman’s campaign released a new medical report from his primary care doctor, who said Fetterman is “recovering well” and has “no work restrictions and can work full duty in public office.”
After the debate, Joe Calvello, Fetterman’s campaign spokesperson, said Fetterman “performed great tonight for a man who was in a hospital bed just several months ago.”
Calvello said given the rapid back-and-forth, Fetterman “did pretty damn well.”
It was the only debate scheduled and the Oz campaign has consistently hammered Fetterman for not committing to any of the other seven debates the Republican pledged to attend.
Fetterman’s said Oz’s demand for so many debates has been a political stunt, while Oz has accused the Democrat of hiding from voters.
The Oz campaign has also bristled at the debate coming so late in the race, just two weeks before Election Day and more than a month after mail-in balloting began in Pennsylvania.
Fetterman’s responded that Senate debates in Pennsylvania have typically been held in mid- to late-October.
Marking the race’s importance to deciding the Senate’s future, reporters from across the globe came to the debate included correspondents for United Kingdom and Korean media.
As darkness fell, more people arrived outside the ABC27 studios on Hoffman Street, with chants frequently breaking out for the TV cameras.
Some protesters demanded that Oz recognize and denounce the Armenian genocide waved signs and a box truck with digital screens on each side slowly drove back on forth showing Fetterman ads.
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