John Fetterman’s performance was center stage in lone Pa. Senate debate against Mehmet Oz

Democrat John Fetterman promised to fight for workers, but struggled at times during a high stakes U.S. Senate discussion Tuesday night. Republican Mehmet Oz attempted to claim the center lane politically but often dodged specific policy details.

Fetterman’s live performance answering questions in 30- to 60-second intervals on stage is likely to be the most watched part of a debate that has attracted national attention. This is both because of the importance of Pennsylvania’s campaign and because of the focus on Fetterman’s May stroke recovery.

Fetterman seemed to be able follow the discussion and participate in the conversation but often struggled with his answers. Fetterman spoke slowly and sometimes mixed up words. This is likely due to a speech problem he had after his stroke. These communication difficulties are common in stroke victims but do not cause cognitive problems. To follow the questions from Oz, he used closed captioning that was visible to both candidates.

Fetterman repeatedly returned to the theme of fighting for Pennsylvanians who’ve been “knocked down” several times, a clear echo from his own health problems.


However, Fetterman’s delivery in a race that is almost tied could increase questions from Republicans about Fetterman’s ability to serve as senator.

Fetterman was once asked about his past criticisms of fracking, which he now supports.

Fetterman began, “I do support Fracking,” before he paused and added, “I support Fracking, and stand, and I support fracking.”

Oz refused to state his position on several policy issues. Oz declined to answer if he would support a bipartisan gun safety bill signed this summer. He also said that he believes wages should rise through private sector and that mandatory wage increases would cause businesses to close.

Oz replied to a question about the proposal of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.S.C.), to ban abortion after 15-weeks nationwide.

He declined to answer three times when asked if he meant yes or no on the bill.

Oz stated, “I want women, doctors and local political leaders to let the democracy that has always allowed our nation thrive to put forward the best ideas so states can make their own decisions.”

Democrats objected to Oz’s inclusion “political leaders” on his list of those who should decide on abortion. They said politicians shouldn’t have any say in womens’ health-care decisions.

Fetterman stated, “If you believe that the decision to have an abortion is between you and your physician, then that’s what you should fight for.” “Roe V. Wade should be the law to me.”

Oz repeatedly called for increased energy production while trying to present himself as the more centrist option on stage. Democrats claim that this is a lie, given his views on abortion and close embrace of former President Donald Trump.

Many voters felt that the debate was their only opportunity to see the candidates other than TV ads. The debate was also a rare opportunity to see them address specific policy issues in a campaign that has largely concentrated on their backgrounds — such as Oz’s wealth, longtime New Jersey residence, Fetterman’s health, and support for clemency of long-serving, reform criminals.

Fetterman’s health was the focus of much of the attention. This was Fetterman’s first time taking live questions from television since his stroke. Republicans quickly declared that he was not fit for office.

Barney Keller, Oz campaign strategist, called the debate “a complete failure” for Fetterman.

Keller stated that he was unable to defend any of his radical views and that it showed after the debate.

Joe Calvello, Fetterman spokesperson, said that Fetterman performed better in primary debates than before his stroke.

Calvello stated that John Fetterman did a great job tonight for a man who was just a few months ago in a hospital bed. He was honest with Pennsylvanians and put his all on the line. He did a great job.

Calvello was asked if he thought agreeing to a fast-fire format was a wise decision. But the Pennsylvanians deserve a debate and that’s what we were not going to complain about. … We rolled with it, which was pretty good.

With the race effectively tied going into the final two weeks, the only issue was the election. According to almost every poll, Oz has now closed a significant Fetterman lead. Both national parties and candidates have invested millions in TV ads.

“Anyone who was watching today could see that there was only one person who could represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate: @droz,” tweeted Republican Senator Pat Toomey. He is not seeking reelection but supports Oz. It’s very sad to see John Fetterman so struggling. He should allow himself more time to fully recover.

Senator Bob Casey of the Democratic Party, who is a Fetterman supporter, said that @JohnFetterman has a strong record of public service and shows empathy for this Commonwealth. He is a Pennsylvanian, he cares about Pennsylvanians and he will be a great senator.

Oz suggested that Fetterman be invited to debate starting in September. However, Fetterman is still recovering from his stroke and declined earlier dates.

Fetterman acknowledged that he suffers from auditory processing problems and occasionally stumbles over his words. In stump speeches and in interviews with The Inquirer, Fetterman’s speaking has been smoother than in Tuesday’s debate. His primary care doctor wrote last week that Fetterman has no restrictions on work and can continue to serve full-time in public office.