In a campaign statement ahead of the only debate in the Pennsylvania Senate race and in his opening remarks, Democratic nominee John Fetterman tried to temper expectations about his performance and confront the “elephant in the room”: that due to his ongoing recovery from a recent stroke, he would struggle with his words in a live, rapid-fire format.
During Tuesday night’s debate, Fetterman, who suffered a stroke in May, stumbled on his remarks as his campaign expected, making tentative statements and reacting slowly to his opponent’s remarks. Fetterman struggles with auditory processing disability as part of his recovery. Because of this, it struggles to analyze sounds in real time. He used captions throughout the debate to follow questions posed by moderators and statements by his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz.
The candidates traded barbs on some big issues — crime and health care — and potentially big policy statements on abortion (Oz) and fracking (Fetterman). But the debate resulted in fewer exchanges and confrontations because the format was not conducive to addressing the ongoing hearing issues that Fetterman navigates.
Debates are quick and spontaneous in nature, and can be much more difficult to participate with the added delays of closed captions and auditory challenges if these are not properly taken into account. Oz has some major weaknesses as a candidate, but it was difficult for Fetterman to develop them in real time.
Fetterman instead focused on his connection to Pennsylvania — he has previously mocked Oz for moving to the state for the Senate race — and stressed his willingness to continue standing up for working people.
“My campaign is to fight for anyone in Pennsylvania who has ever been knocked down and had to get back up,” he said. “I had a stroke. He never let me forget that.
Oz has mostly avoided tackling Fetterman’s health, instead attacking him on the economy and crime, two issues Republicans see as midterm weaknesses for Democrats. “John Fetterman takes everything to the extreme,” he said. “These radical positions go beyond crime.”
Fetterman’s decision to participate in the debate ultimately revealed the state of his ongoing recovery and how the format failed to accommodate those challenges.
What we learned about politics
While the debate had its strains, there were key moments that were more informative, particularly when the candidates were pressed about their policy positions on issues such as abortion rights and fracking.
Oz’s stance on abortion has been somewhat murky so far. More recently, Oz has described himself as “strongly pro-life” and someone who would support exceptions to abortion for cases of rape, incest and threats to the health of the mother. In the GOP primary, he wasn’t so nuanced, calling abortion at any stage of pregnancy “murder.” He also said he would not support criminal penalties for people who seek abortions or doctors who perform them.
Additionally, Oz had refused to take a position on a 15-week abortion ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Asked about Graham’s ban during the debate, Oz again dodged the question, although he said he thought the decision to get an abortion should be made between “women, doctors and leaders. local policies,” reiterating the position that state governments should be the ones to make this decision.
Fetterman stressed his support for keeping deer and would vote to codify his protections into federal law if elected. He also stressed that the decision to have an abortion should be made between a woman and her doctor.
Fetterman, when asked, said he supports fracking, although he said he opposed it in a 2018 interview when he was running for lieutenant governor. Since then, he has said he supports the practice, which has supported thousands of jobs in the state’s oil and gas industry.
Asked about the inconsistency, Fetterman emphasized his support for the practice but did not address the change in position.
Beyond specific issues, the two candidates have also sought to clash over their personal attributes, with Fetterman referencing Oz’s time peddling false medical claims and how that approach extends to his Senate bid. . “It’s the rule of Oz. He’s on TV and he’s lying,” Fetterman said. Oz, meanwhile, attempted to portray Fetterman as too out of touch with Pennsylvania voters, citing his record on crime and his support for pardons and commutations as chairman of the state’s Pardon Board.
The most immediately consequential question the debate produced, however, is also one to which we don’t yet know the answer: Fetterman’s stumbles, or whatever either candidate has said, will put off the voters in an extremely tight race that could determine control of the Senate?
“Under normal circumstances, the debate should be seen as a significant setback for Fetterman, as his performance certainly wasn’t strong and Oz held the upper hand for most of the night,” said Chris Borick, a non-pollster. Pennsylvania-based supporter. . “But these are not normal circumstances, and it’s hard to determine how voters rate Fetterman given his stroke.”
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