0 0 lang="en-US"> Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz face off in highly anticipated Pennsylvania Senate debate - Sacramentotime.com
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Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz face off in highly anticipated Pennsylvania Senate debate

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HARRISBURG, PA – More than five months later having a stroke Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman has struggled to explain his position at times, and he often sounded uncertain during Tuesday’s highly anticipated debate against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz as they battled for a key Senate seat.

In the opening minutes of the debate, Fetterman addressed what he called the “elephant in the room.”

“I had a stroke. He never let me forget that,” Fetterman said of Oz, who constantly questioned his ability to serve in the Senate. “And I might have missed some words during this debate, mixed two words together, but it knocked me off my feet and I’ll keep coming back.”

When later in the debate he was asked to release his medical records, he refused to oblige.

This combination of file photos shows Democratic Senate candidate Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, left, and Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2022 photo ops.

Oz, a famed heart surgeon, ignored his opponent’s health issues during the debate, instead taking advantage of Fetterman’s policies on immigration and crime and his support for President Joe Biden. Oz once said that Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, was “trying to get as many murderers out of prison as possible.”

“His extreme positions made him fragile,” he charged.

The forum had many details of a traditional debate, complete with heated discussions and interruptions. But the effects of the stroke were evident as Fetterman used the closed captioning above the moderator to help him process the words he heard, leading to occasional awkward pauses.

The biggest question emerging from the debate was whether it would have a lasting impact with two weeks to go before the election and more than 600,000 votes already cast. The stakes in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey are high: It’s Democrats’ best chance to flip a Senate seat this year — and could determine party control of the chamber and the future of Biden’s agenda.

But instead of watching an hour of candidates debate abortion, inflation and crime, many Pennsylvanians can only see clips of the event on social media. And both sides are preparing to flood the airwaves with television ads in the final stretch.

Independent experts consulted by The Associated Press said Fetterman appeared to be recovering well. Stroke rehabilitation specialist Dr Sonia Sheth, who watched the debate, called Fetterman an inspiration to stroke survivors.

“I think he’s done really well,” said Sheth, of Northwestern Medicine’s Marianja Rehabilitation Hospital in suburban Chicago. “He had a stroke less than a year ago and will continue to recover over the next year. He had some errors in his responses, but overall he was able to formulate fluent, thoughtful responses.”

Experts agreed that having problems with auditory processing does not mean that someone also has cognitive problems. The brain’s language network is distinct from regions involved in decision-making and critical thinking.

Oz, a longtime TV host, was more at home on the debate stage. He has cast himself as a moderate Republican who wants to unite a divided state, even as he has pledged to support former President Donald Trump if he runs for president again in 2024.

“I’m a surgeon, I’m not a politician,” Oz said. “We take big problems, focus on them and solve them. We do this by coming together, uniting, not dividing.”

Fetterman has also pledged to support Biden if he runs again in 2024.

The Democratic president campaigned with Fetterman in Pittsburgh during the Labor Day parade and just last week headlined a fundraiser for Fetterman in Philadelphia. There, Biden said “the rest of the world is watching” and suggested Fetterman’s loss would jeopardize his agenda.

While endorsing Biden, Fetterman also said “he needs to do more to support and fight inflation.”

Abortion was a major dividing line during the debate.

Oz insists that he supports three exemptions – for rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. Under pressure Tuesday night, he suggested he opposes South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill to impose a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks because it would allow the federal government to dictate laws to states.

“I don’t want the federal government involved in this at all,” Oz said. “I want women, doctors, local political leaders to allow the democracy that has always allowed our nation to thrive to put forth the best ideas so that the states can decide for themselves.”

Fetterman addressed women with a blunt message: “If you believe the choice to have an abortion belongs to you and your doctor, I’m fighting for it.”

Fetterman is a star of progressive politics across the country, gaining a loyal following thanks to, among other things, his outspoken working-class appeal, towering stature, tattoos and unapologetic progressive politics. On Tuesday, the 6’9″ Democrat traded in his signature hoodie and shorts for a dark suit and tie.

But even before the debate, Democrats in Washington were worried about Fetterman’s campaign, given the stakes.

For most of the year, Fetterman appeared to be the clear favorite, especially as Republicans waged a nasty nomination battle that left the GOP divided and bitter. But as Election Day approached, the race intensified. And now, just two weeks before the final vote, even the White House is privately concerned that Fetterman’s candidacy is in jeopardy.

Fetterman’s speech problems were evident throughout the night. He often had difficulty finishing sentences.

When pressed to explain his shifting position on fracking, a major issue in a state where thousands of jobs are tied to natural gas extraction, his response was particularly awkward.

“I support fracking. And no, I’m not. I support fracking, and I support and support fracking,” Fetterman said.

At another point, the moderator appeared to cut Fetterman off as he struggled to finish a response defending Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness program. He also stumbled before concluding a key line of attack: “We need to make sure Dr. Oz and the Republicans believe in cutting Medicare and Social Security . . .”

Candidates for the Senate of the state of Pennsylvania met each other in a television studio in Harrisburg. The public was not allowed in, and Nexstar Media, which organized the debate, refused to allow an AP photographer into the event.

Oz pushed for more than half a dozen debates, suggesting that Fetterman’s reluctance to agree to more than one was because the stroke had worn him down. Fetterman insisted that one debate is typical – though two are more common – and that Oz’s focus on the debates was a cynical ploy to lie about his health.

Fetterman declined to release his full medical records when asked repeatedly by a moderator on Tuesday.

“My doctor thinks I’m fit for duty. And that’s what I think is where I stand,” Fetterman said.

While it is customary for presidential candidates to release health certificates, there is no such custom for US Senate elections. Some senators have released medical records in the past when they ran for president.

Democrats pointed out that the televised debate likely would have favored Oz even without the question about the stroke. Oz hosted “The Dr. Oz Show” weekdays for 13 seasons after becoming a regular guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. Fetterman, on the other hand, is a less practiced speaker who is introverted by nature.

Many Republicans were enthusiastic about the outcome of the debate, though most — including Oz — tried to avoid the build-up over Fetterman’s health.

Donald Trump Jr. was less cautious.

“If Fetterman is some left-wing bait to make Biden actually sound smart and articulate, he’s doing a great job,” the former president’s son tweeted.

Copyright © 2022, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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