Democrat John Fetterman stammered through his first and only debate with Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz before the Nov. 8 Senate election in Pennsylvania, repeatedly struggling to give coherent answers to key questions.
Fetterman’s lingering “auditory processing issues” following his May stroke were readily apparent during the Harrisburg showdown, where despite debating with the aid of two 70-inch TV monitors equipped with closed captioning — spelling out the moderators’ questions, and Oz’s responses — it was very unclear what the Keystone State’s lieutenant governor was trying to say at times.
Most notably, when pressed on his apparent flip-flopping on fracking in the Keystone State, a frazzled Fetterman didn’t appear to know how to answer the question.
“I absolutely support fracking,” Fetterman said before the moderator pointed out a 2018 interview in which the candidate said he did not support hydraulic fracturing.
“I have always supported fracking,” Fetterman claimed again, awkwardly adding, “I do support fracking and — I don’t, I don’t, I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking.”
Fetterman’s fracking fumble came after getting off to an awkward start when he opened the debate by saying, “Hi. Good night, everybody.”
At another point in the evening, when asked if the Biden administration has “overspent” and what he would cut from the federal budget, Fetterman resorted to an apparent non sequitur.
“Here’s what I think we have to fight about inflation, here, right now. That’s we need to fight about: inflation right now,” Fetterman said, before regaining enough coherence to call price hikes a “tax” on the working class.
While Fetterman accused Oz of never letting him forget that he had a stroke, which the Democrat acknowledged was the “elephant in the room,” the former TV talk show host and heart surgeon didn’t bring it up Tuesday night.
However, when debate co-moderator and local news anchor Dennis Owens twice asked Fetterman if he would release his medical records “in the interest of transparency,” the Democrat refused to be pinned down on the question and said that his doctors believe he is fit to serve.
“For me, transparency is about showing up,” Fetterman said in his dodge.
Oz, for his part, was pressed by Owens and fellow moderator Lisa Sylvester about whether he would back Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) recent legislation outlawing most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Republican would not give a direct answer, but he implied that he would not support the bill — preferring to give states a free hand in setting abortion law.
Meanwhile, Fetterman repeated that he would support codifying the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide and was reversed in June
“If you believe the choice of your reproductive freedom belongs with Dr. Oz, that’s your choice,” he said. “But if you believe that the choice for abortion belongs with you and your doctor, that’s what I fight for.”
When the issue of the 2024 presidential elections came up, both candidates reluctantly endorsed their party’s 2020 standard-bearers.
At first, Oz said he would support “whoever” runs on the GOP ticket in 2024.
“I’ll support whoever the Republican Party puts up, and I have reached out across the aisle on my campaign because I want to bring balance to Washington,” Oz said.
When asked specifically if he would support former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Oz’s Senate campaign, the Republican gave a firmer response.
“I would support Donald Trump if he decided to run for president,” Oz eventually conceded, adding that he has not followed the various legal battles surrounding the 45th president closely.
Fetterman likewise said he would support President Biden if he decided to run again in 2024.
“If he does choose to run, I would absolutely support him. But ultimately, that’s ultimately only his choice,” Fetterman said.
After the debate, the Fetterman campaign said that it was “thrilled” with the lieutenant governor’s performance and said that the closed captioning system they wanted implemented for the debate was “filled with errors.”
“We are thrilled with John’s performance,” the Democrat’s camp said in a statement. “He did remarkably well tonight – especially when you consider that he’s still recovering from a stroke and was working off of delayed captions filled with errors.”