Fetterman and Oz meet for their only debate in high-stakes Senate race – WEIS


KRISTON JAE BETHEL/AFP via Getty Images

(HARRISBURG, Pa.) — Pennsylvania Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz will debate Tuesday night in Harrisburg, a much-anticipated showdown in a race that has seen health issues and personal attacks, with House scrutiny upper Congress equally divided on the line.

The debate will be hosted by Nexstar and broadcast throughout Pennsylvania beginning at 8 p.m. ET. This follows a months-long effort by Oz to get Fetterman to agree to share the stage following Fetterman’s stroke in May, with Oz saying he sympathized with Fetterman but wanted them to face off with voters.

Oz had previously agreed to seven other debates, according to his campaign, to which Fetterman had not committed.

While the candidates are likely to come and go on public safety, the economy, health care and more, much of the spotlight will be on Fetterman’s own health. The lieutenant governor’s speech has been choppy at times since he took over public campaign events after his stroke, which his campaign says was caused by atrial fibrillation or an irregular heartbeat, which led to a clot.

Onstage, Fetterman will have closed captioning, allowing him real-time transcription to help him with any issues he has in processing words addressed to him.

Two high-profile aides attempted to lower expectations for his performance on Monday, writing in a note to reporters that debating “is not John’s format” and that Oz, a former surgeon and TV host, “has a huge built-in advantage”.

Fetterman “is a unique candidate with a strong personal brand that transcends partisanship,” wrote senior adviser Rebecca Katz and campaign manager Brendan McPhillips. “That’s what voters are going to see on the debate stage, and that’s why John is going to win this race – even if he doesn’t win the debate.”

“John has had a remarkable recovery, but the ongoing auditory processing challenges are real,” they added. “But he will be open and candid about these challenges, just as he has been in interviews and rallies in recent months.”

Fetterman cautiously walked back the campaign trail in August, holding few events and rarely speaking to the media. Since then, he has steadily increased his public presence, sometimes hosting multiple events a day. Along the way, his speech seemed to improve, becoming more fluent.

In a letter released last week, Fetterman’s primary care physician said the lieutenant governor “can work full-time in public service” and speaks “without cognitive deficits.”

This assessment aligns with what independent neurologists told ABC News that for stroke survivors, language problems do not indicate cognitive impairment.

But agents say that may not stop Fetterman’s opponents from using his appearance on the debate stage to convince voters that he is not a candidate for senator.

“If Fetterman is not just bad but clumsy in a way that shows a deficiency, then Republicans will likely run some sort of paid ad highlighting that, and that will likely be seen by voters,” said Democratic strategist JJ Balaban. at ABC News.

Josh Novotney, a Republican consultant based in Philadelphia, said, “It’s an hour-long debate. It only takes them a few seconds to make it a viral moment on social media where it will decide many votes.

While Fetterman has long led Oz, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, polls have tightened this fall amid both a crush of Republican-funded ads calling Fetterman soft on crime and a a domestic environment that favors the GOP.

Six weeks ago, Fetterman held a nearly 11-point lead in the FiveThirtyEight average. Monday was less than three points.

Oz “has been really good at message discipline,” Novotney told ABC News, focusing primarily on crime and inflation, two issues that polls show are at the top of voters’ minds.

Oz also criticizes Fetterman’s history as head of the state parole board, where he voted to commute the sentences of some life-sentenced murderers. The Oz campaign called him “America’s most pro-murdering candidate”.

Fetterman, who wears tattoos in memory of crime victims in the city where he previously served as mayor, said these select cases involved offenders who spent many decades behind bars and were no longer ” dangerous”.

Fetterman joked at an event, “What did Dr. Oz ever know about fighting crime, living in a gated mansion in New Jersey?

Oz’s ties to New Jersey, where he lived for years before moving to Pennsylvania – where he attended medical school – have been a repeated target for Fetterman, who calls Oz an out-of-touch opportunist with Pennsylvanians. .

Oz brushes off these attacks, recently telling a local outlet, “Pennsylvanians don’t care where you’re from; they care about what you stand for.

Some experts believe Tuesday’s debate could have more influence on voters than debates in previous cycles.

“I think this debate, more than any debate probably in the last quarter century, in Pennsylvania at least, is really going to matter,” Republican consultant Matt Benyon said.

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