Democrat John Fetterman’s debate activity has increased attention to his recovery from a stroke, and has some supporters worried that his current post-stroke limitations could affect his narrow lead in the critical Pennsylvania Senate race against Republican Mehmet Oz.
If Fetterman’s showing changes the course of the race, the debate could have nationwide ramifications, and Pennsylvania represents the Democrats’ best chance to pick up the Senate seat in the evenly divided chamber. A CNN poll conducted by SSRS and released earlier this week found that 51 percent of likely voters approve of Fetterman, compared to Oz’s 45 percent, a lead well outside the poll’s margin of error. And a CBS News poll released this week also found the race closer, with 51 percent of Pennsylvania voters backing Fetterman and 49 percent backing Oz.
While the aftermath of Fetterman’s stroke dominated some of the post-debate conversation, Oz’s comments on abortion — saying “local politicians” should help women’s medical decisions — also caused shockwaves. Abortion rights are being debated across the country, including in the commonwealth, and Oz’s words could hurt suburban women voters, who both campaigns believe could be decisive on Election Day.
On Tuesday night and Wednesday, Fetterman’s campaign was pulling double duty, reiterating the auditory processing and speech problems of May’s stroke, which prompted calls for closed captioning on Tuesday night, but ultimately provided only limited support, while leaving and pushing for thoughts. words together and sometimes repeated sentences. But the campaign was making sure Pennsylvania voters didn’t miss Oz’s comments by announcing a new ad highlighting them just hours after the debate ended.
In interviews with CNN, many Fetterman voters said that while they were concerned about his performance with swing voters, they still planned to vote for him. In fact, none of the voters who entered the night intending to vote Democrat said they intended to change their vote.
“It was tough,” said Karin Tatela, a Chester County educator who was at the May event when Fetterman had to cancel at the last minute because of a stroke. “I told my friend, I said, ‘I don’t want to see it, it’s like looking at a car accident. You want to look, but you don’t want to look.’
Tatela, however, said he plans to vote for Fetterman.
“I can’t vote for that,” he said, pausing long enough to stop attacking Oz. “I would never vote for Oz. I don’t care if Fetterman had to enter the Senate in a hospital bed. But I think we could have a bit of a problem here.’
He is not alone.
“My opinion of who I’m voting for hasn’t changed, but I feel a little less qualified to win the election because of how he performed,” said Andrew Charles, a Fetterman supporter who lives and works in Millersville, Pennsylvania. in manufacturing “But I see a lot of red in people about their abilities.”
Charles, who attended a Fetterman event this year wearing a house T-shirt to support the candidate, said he will still vote for Fetterman, but last night he found himself thinking about swing voters.
“If they were on the fence, they’re probably not on the fence anymore,” he concluded, hoping those voters will now back Oz.
Joe Pozzini, a union carpenter, said he had no concerns about Fetterman’s health when he spoke to CNN earlier this month at an event in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. But after the debate, Pozzini worried about how the Democrat’s health might affect the race.
“I know how I vote. I’m a Fetterman all the way, but it was kind of disturbing,” he said of a lifelong Pennsylvanian. “His message is still there, he’s still a strong candidate, I was worried about people on the fence.”
He added: “I think he got his point across, but it’s just, it was rough, it was rough, and somebody on the fence could lean the other way and that’s worrying.”
Fetterman acknowledged his stroke early in the debate, trying to humanize his recovery.
“Let’s also talk about the elephant in the room. I had a stroke. He never let me forget that,” Fetterman said, referring to his campaign’s frequent comments about Oz and his recovery. “And I’m going to lose a few words in this discussion, put two words together, but it knocked me out and I’ll keep coming back.”
While Oz avoided explicitly attacking Fetterman’s stroke recovery — unlike many of his campaign aides, who have mocked Fetterman’s recovery — the Republican made seemingly snide comments during the debate.
“John, I obviously wasn’t bright enough to understand,” Oz said of the benign questions about vocational training.
Whether the debate will matter, however, is an open question.
Several Democratic operatives noted that few undecided voters watch the debates live, and while some will watch local news coverage of the contest, most are not tuned into the day-to-day machinations of the Senate race, which is less than two weeks away. From the election day.
“I thought it would be better, but I don’t think it hurts,” said Mike Mikus, a Pittsburgh Democratic consultant who guided Fetterman in the 2016 Democratic state Senate primary against Katie McGinty, before she lost to the Republican senator. Pat Toomey in the general election. “I think people understand that Fetterman had a stroke, and that affects his speech. But they also think it will get better.”
He added, “At the same time, most swing voters aren’t very political and probably didn’t see it. . . . At this stage of a campaign, the undecideds are completely disengaged.”
Also, before the debate, nearly 640,000 primary ballots had been cast in Pennsylvania, according to data from state election officials, and Democrats make up the vast majority of voters who have already cast ballots in the Keystone State. As of Monday, 73% of Pennsylvania voters have been Democrats, and 19% have been Republicans. Although smaller in scale, the breakdown is similar to this point two years ago, according to Catalist data.
To focus post-debate coverage on Oz, Fetterman’s campaign announced minutes after the debate that it would put money behind an ad emphasizing that Oz should leave the abortion debate “to women, to doctors, to local political leaders.”
Oz’s comments are a continuation of his argument that the states, not the federal government, should decide the issue. But when pressed repeatedly during a debate about a bill proposed by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham that would limit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Oz deflected, arguing that he did not support federal law on the issue but would not give a firm answer. How would he vote if he was in the Senate.
Top Democrats saw the comment as an opening to link Oz to Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, the state senator who introduced a bill in 2019 that would have banned the abortion procedure.
Their argument: Oz believes that politicians like Mastriano — as state senators or perhaps governors — should decide the issue.
“Our campaign will put money into getting as many women as possible to hear Dr. Oz’s radical belief that ‘local political leaders’ should have as much say in a woman’s abortion decisions as women and their doctors,” said campaigner Joe Calvello. the spokesperson “After months of trying to hide his extreme abortion stance, Oz stepped down on the debate stage on Tuesday.”
But Republicans – and even some doctors who specialize in cardiology – found Fetterman’s performance troubling and raised questions about how transparent he has been about the impact of his stroke.
“He embarrassed himself and is unfit for office,” said Ryan Costello, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. “He has not demonstrated the ability to handle the physical and communication duties of being a U.S. Senator.”
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and interventional cardiologist who has treated several high-profile politicians, called the debate “difficult to watch.”
“Fetterman’s residual neurological injury is significant,” Reiner said. “He has led the citizens to believe that his campaign is much bigger than that. Hearing is more than processing. It’s incredibly sad to see.”