Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s refusal to debate GOP celebrity heart surgeon Mehmet Oz is raising questions about the Democratic Senate candidate’s recovery from a May stroke, including from one of the state’s biggest newspapers.
“John Fetterman is either healthy and he’s dodging the debate because he does not want to answer for his radical left positions, or he’s too sick to participate in the debate,” Oz said Tuesday during a Philadelphia news conference with Sen. Pat Toomey, the retiring Republican Oz and Fetterman are battling to replace.
The candidates had been scheduled to square off Tuesday in the first of five debates before the Nov. 8 election, but Fetterman backed out at the end of August, saying he was still recovering from auditory and speech problems caused by the stroke.
“Doctors fix things. I would actively work to change us for the better and protect our families,” Oz told reporters. “Those are the opening statements you would have heard from me if John Fetterman had not ducked out of tonight’s debate.”
In a Tuesday evening interview with Fox News host Brett Baier, Oz said, “I don’t know if he’s medically fit — although I’m a doctor, I probably should have an opinion on it. But the fact is, nobody knows because none of us have had access to his medical records.”
Oz denied Fetterman’s counter-charge that he’s “making fun” of a serious health condition by raising the issue. “I’ve been from day one empathetic to his condition,” Oz said.
“As a physician who’s dealt with stroke and heart failure, I know how challenging it can be to bounce back.”
“You have one candidate, Dr. Oz, who very much wants to engage in a robust debate about the [campaigns’] differences, discuss policies and the implications for Pennsylvanians,” Toomey said. “And then you have another candidate, John Fetterman, who’s doing everything possible to avoid debating those differences.
“John Fetterman sits at home, does social media all day ][and] he raises tons of money from liberals in California and New York,” he added.
Hours earlier, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board said Fetterman taking part in a debate would put an end to questions about whether he is healthy enough to represent Pennsylvania in Washington for the next six years.
“If Mr. Fetterman is not well enough to debate his opponent, that raises serious concerns about his ability to serve as a United States senator,” said the Post-Gazette, the largest newspaper in the state’s second largest city. The piece went on to note that Fetterman “still speaks haltingly and relies on closed captioning to fully understand his conversation partners.”
“A live debate is the best way to assure voters Mr. Fetterman is up to the job,” the editorial board concluded. ” … Voters have a right to know whether their prospective senator can do the job — including handling the give-and-take of a vigorous debate.”
The paper also scolded Oz’s campaign for suggesting that it would pay for “additional medical personnel [Fetterman] might need to have on standby” during the showdown, calling the jab a “low point” in his race.
Fetterman joined President Biden on Labor Day to give remarks to union steelworkers in West Mifflin, a town southeast of Pittsburgh, but the lieutenant governor has shied away from news interviews and walked away when questioned by a bystander about when and if he would debate Oz.
Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello noted the Labor Day appearances in a statement.
“Anyone who’s seen John speak knows that while he’s still recovering, he’s more capable of fighting for PA than Dr. Oz will ever be,” the spokesman said. “And anyone who’s seen Dr. Oz speak knows he’s a complete fraud. We have said repeatedly that we are open to debating Oz, and we’re talking with networks, but let’s be clear: This isn’t about debates. This is about mocking John for having a stroke because they’ve got nothing else, and because they don’t want to talk about the fact that Oz wants to ban abortions and believes all abortion is ‘murder.’”
Staying out of sight has yet to harm Fetterman’s standing in the polls. An average of surveys collected by RealClearPolitics showed the Democrat with a 6.5-percentage point lead over Oz.