Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman repeatedly stumbled over his words during a Tuesday debate with Republican rival Mehmet Oz, demonstrating the lingering effects from a stroke that knocked him off the campaign trail for more than three months.
“Hi. Goodnight, everybody,” Fetterman said during introductions.
Fetterman opens the debate:
“Hi. Good night everybody.” pic.twitter.com/mg0X3Iwf5D
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) October 26, 2022
Fetterman suffered the stroke in early May, shortly before winning his primary against Rep. Conor Lamb. He did not reappear on the campaign trail until August, and a doctor later revealed that he initially suffered heart problems in 2017 but did not receive follow-up treatment. Fetterman has primarily conducted his campaign through surrogates, most prominently his wife Gisele, who have suggested that concerns about his health constitute “ableism.”
“I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together. It might knock me down, but I’m going to keep coming back up,” he said.
The Democrat struggled to speak throughout the debate, repeatedly trailing off and losing focus. In several instances, he sought to pivot to attacks on Oz’s wealth and recent move to the state of Pennsylvania. (RELATED: Can Dr. Oz Turn His Campaign Around?)
John Fetterman can’t speak. This is disqualifying. Just watch. Answers like this are happening over and over again: pic.twitter.com/vnRQ0GMbtL
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 26, 2022
“He would never make that choice to fight for … families here in Pennsylvania. He has never met an … oil company that he doesn’t swipe right about. He has never been able to stand up for working families across Pennsylvania. We must push back … inflation has hurt Americans and Pennsylvania’s families, and it has given the oil companies record profits,” Fetterman said while repeatedly stumbling over his answer to a question on inflation.
Both candidates criticized each others’ wealth while suggesting the other could not understand economic struggles due to personal and familial wealth.
“Here’s what we have to fight about. We have to fight about inflation right now, because it’s a tax on working families. And Dr. Oz can’t possibly understand what that’s like, you know. He has ten gigantic mansions, you know. We must push back against corporate greed. We must also make sure that we’re pushing back against price gouging, as well too, you know,” Fetterman said.
“I’ve been trying to talk about policy issues with the people of Pennsylvania,” Oz answered. “When John Fetterman brings up houses, the irony is he didn’t pay for his own house. He got it for a dollar from his sister. And he hasn’t been able to earn a living on his own. He’s lived off his parents.”
Fetterman later attempted to interrupt and speak over the moderator when the two candidates discussed fracking. Both candidates have flip-flopped on the issue, and the Fetterman campaign denied that he ever opposed the practice.
“Oz rule!” Fetterman said in reference to an earlier claim that the Republican would lie throughout the debate. “I absolutely support fracking. In fact, I live across the street from a steel mill and they were going to frack to create their own energy in order to make them more competitive. And I support that, living closer to anybody else in Pennsylvania for fracking to myself.”
When pushed on his 2018 opposition to fracking, Fetterman was at a loss for words.
“Uh, I do support fracking, and I don’t, I don’t, I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking.”
A doctor and campaign donor acknowledged in a note released Oct. 19 that Fetterman “exhibit[s] symptoms of an auditory processing disorder.” Fetterman accused Oz of “never let[ting] me forget” the stroke during the debate, which his campaign repeatedly pushed back.
Several polls have found the two candidates within their margins of error, even as Fetterman led by more than ten points in some summer surveys. Pennsylvanians began submitting mail-in ballots on Sept. 19, and more than 640,000 have already done so.