Mehmet Oz formally challenged John Fetterman Friday to five Senate debates in Pennsylvania, an opening salvo designed to help the Republican take on the Democratic front-runner and indirectly emphasize his health as he recovers from a stroke.
Oz, the famed TV doctor, made sure that his call for a debate to coincide with Fetterman’s first public meeting since he was weakened by a stroke on May 15, two days before the state primaries. Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, was hospitalized for days and temporarily lost his ability to speak fluently.
Since then, Fetterman has maintained a lead in the polls, spending more on Oz on TV and garnering favorable media attention for the clever use of social media in his campaign, at one point featuring “Jersey Shore” reality TV star Snooki to get Oz’s out. -of-state roots to mock. Fetterman’s campaign also slowly reintroduced the candidate to his followers by releasing highly edited, multi-cut videos, which Republicans say purposely disguised the speech problems Fetterman acknowledged he had developed as a result of the stroke.
Fetterman’s campaign wouldn’t say how many debates he will commit himself to and dismissed Oz’s move as a sign of desperation.
While that’s a typical answer for a frontrunner, the questions about Fetterman’s health problems will complicate his ability to turn down Oz’s challenge to multiple debates, said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College in the United States. Pennsylvania.
“There is a certain pressure for Fetterman to show that he is ready to go. It doesn’t mean he has to agree with everything. But he’ll have to debate Oz this fall,” Borick said. “I don’t think it’s very noticeable in this campaign, but given Fetterman’s health situation, he needs to show that he is capable of playing this role.”
Friday’s event is the first public event in the open press where voters and reporters will have a chance to assess his recovery.
Oz, a cardiac surgeon, did not immediately question or criticize Fetterman’s health. Instead, his campaign has drawn increasing attention to Fetterman’s absence from the campaign trail during his recovery Fetterman Basement Tracker on social media. Oz’s campaign emphasized that message in its statement calling for more debates.
“John Fetterman has been hiding from reporters and the public in recent months because he doesn’t want to talk about his radical policy positions, such as releasing a third of Pennsylvania’s convicted criminals on our streets, signing a pledge to ban fracking, and wanting to spend trillions more than Biden, which would increase inflation even more,” said Brittany Yanick, the spokeswoman for Oz.
“Now that Fetterman has returned to the campaign trail after a 90-day hiatus, the Pennsylvanians deserve to know whether he will engage in real debates or go back to hiding in his basement,” she added.
In response to questions from NBC News, Fetterman campaign strategist Rebecca Katz dismissed the Oz campaign’s debate question as “an obvious and pathetic attempt to change the subject during another bad week.”
“John is ready to discuss Oz – but we’re not going to do this on Oz’s terms. A millionaire celebrity like Dr. Oz is probably used to pushing people around and getting his way, but he won’t be able to to bully John Fetterman,” Katz said in an email.
Katz noted that the Democratic lieutenant governor “had a stroke 3 months ago, and the other is a professional television personality, so our eyes are wide on whose strengths this plays out.” She said it’s “no surprise that he’s eager to have as many debates as possible” because he’s been “lying to people on television” professionally for 20 years.
Fetterman’s campaign said he recently held three private fundraising events — one on July 21 in Philadelphia, another on August 9 in Philadelphia and one on August 10 at Camp Hill.
Pennsylvania pollster Borick pointed out that Fetterman seemed uncomfortable with his Democratic primary debates, even before he suffered a stroke.
Putting pressure on Fetterman as he recovers: Four of the five debates Oz wants will require candidates to stand for an hour. Five debates is a number that is outside the norm for Pennsylvania Senate racing. In 2018, the Senate general election candidates had two debates and in 2016 there were two debates.
Republicans are increasingly concerned about Oz’s campaign and are correspondingly more agitated about Fetterman. Capturing that sense of frustration, former rep Ryan Costello mocked R-Pa. Fetterman’s speech in one of the Democrat’s Twitter videos mocking Oz’s residence.
“He can barely speak and has been away from home for barely two months,” Costello wrote, citing another conservative account that called Fetterman’s video “embarrassing.”
The five debates that Oz has agreed to are as follows:
• KDKA Pittsburgh (September 6)
• WFMZ and Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (September 9)
• Nexstar (October 5)
• FOX 29 Philadelphia, in partnership with Spotlight PA
• WGAL NBC Harrisburg