The Long-awaited Pennsylvania Senate debate Tuesday night was a fast-paced affair dense on politics but relatively light on the personal attacks that defined a key race for who controls Fairly divided upper house of Congress.
It also brought Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s stroke symptoms back into the spotlight – as well as what he said was his resilience and recovery after, as he said, a notable but not disqualifying challenge. .
many eyes were on Fetterman’s health as he took the stage. He spoke haltingly and at times incoherently throughout the debate, even more so than he has at campaign events since returning to the track in August, three months after his stroke. Sometimes he seemed to have trouble completing his answers.
Two monitors hung above the heads of moderators, who transcribed both Republican Mehmet Oz’s questions and responses in real time, to help address Fetterman’s auditory processing issues, which neurologists say exteriors, are not an indication of cognitive problems for stroke survivors.
Fetterman also worked with a speech therapist; his doctor said last week he was ready for “full duty” at the office.
Several times on Tuesday, but not often, there was a pause before Fetterman answered a question as he read the transcript.
Shortly after the debate began, he cited his stroke and the sometimes mocking criticism he faced because of it from his rival’s campaign team.
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“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: I had a stroke. He never let me forget that,” Fetterman said in his opening remarks, beginning a line he would repeat during Of time. “It knocked me down, but I’ll keep going back up.”
Oz, a former surgeon and popular television host, did not mention his opponent’s health onstage.
Both candidates were forced to respond for inconsistent views on policies: for example, each received past comments on fracking that contradicted what they had said on the issue on the trail.
“I strongly support fracking,” Oz said when asked about comments he made in 2014 against the industry, which employs thousands of Pennsylvanians but draws attention to its effects on the environment. ‘environment.
Fetterman was also asked by moderators to reconcile his recent public support for fracking with comments he made in 2018 sharply criticizing it.
“I have always supported fracking,” he insisted.
Of the discrepancy, Fetterman said awkwardly, “I support fracking…I support fracking.”
He and Oz also attempted to take advantage when questioned about the issues on which they hinged their candidacies.
“I want to look at the face of every woman in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said when the debate shifted to abortion access, pitting her view against that of her opponent, who describes herself as “pro- life”.
“If you think the choice of your reproductive freedom is Dr. Oz’s, then you have a choice,” Fetterman said.
“Roe v. Wade, to me, should be the law,” he added, referring to the national abortion guarantee. which was overturned by the Supreme Court this summer.
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Fetterman, however, dodged questions about whether he would support any restrictions on abortion, including in later trimesters.
Moderators also continually asked Oz if he would support South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposal to institute a nationwide ban on abortion, with some exceptions, after 15 weeks.
Oz, as he did with reporters, refused to answer yes or no, instead insisting that he was against federal control of the matter and preferred that it be left to the states – to women, to their doctors and local politicians, he said.
“Any bill that violates what I said, which is that the feds interfere with a state rule on abortion, I would vote against,” Oz finally acknowledged.
On crime, meanwhile – an issue he exploited by closing his gaping gap in the polls – Oz touted his endorsements by several state police unions while Fetterman defended himself against allegations of soft on crime, claiming that Oz has “no experience” with public safety.
Fetterman said as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, he worked successfully to address gun violence and had a proven track record of addressing public safety issues.
“We should be talking about crime and inflation — the issues that hurt Pennsylvanians,” said Oz, who repeatedly in the debate touted a plan to “liberate” the state’s energy industry for, as he envisioned it, raise wages and strengthen businesses and help bring down high prices.
Oz cited an example of a woman who could no longer pay for groceries — a shocking issue, he said.
Fetterman, he said, was a “radical” who would not be budget conscious and raise taxes.
Fetterman said Oz would not have voted for the Democrats’ Inflation Cuts Act in Congress, which allows Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices, and he cited Oz’s wealth and his relative lack of roots in Pennsylvania.
“He has 10 gigantic mansions,” Fetterman said. “We have to fight corporate greed, we also have to make sure that we push back against price gouging as well.”
When asked to explain his plan to attack companies that inflated prices, Fetterman did not respond, speaking more broadly about how “inflation hurts Americans” and how Oz “n has ever been able to stand up for working families across America.”
Elsewhere, Fetterman said he supports legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double its current rate. Oz said he wants the minimum wage to be even higher than that, but driven by market forces, not law, through his plan for state energy companies.
The two candidates also separated on the value of federal student loan forgiveness – which Fetterman argues – while Oz argued that he had a more defined plan to reduce the cost of college.
Campaigns react after debate
Tuesday was the only debate Fetterman agreed to after pleas and criticism from Oz and before that his campaign tried to lower expectations for his performance, with two top aides telling reporters in a Monday memo that he would debate “isn’t John’s format” and quoting The Years of Oz on TV.
Within minutes of the puck drop ending on Tuesday night, his campaign team rallied to — in their own words — tout his performance.
“We are thrilled with John’s performance,” spokesman Joe Calvello told reporters.
The campaign announced Tuesday night that it planned to run an ad targeting Oz for one of its responses on abortion access, in which he said policy should be decided democratically by states but involve more specifically “a woman, a doctor and local political leaders”.
The Oz side, meanwhile, declared victory.
“We had a debate tonight that was a complete disaster for John Fetterman,” adviser Barney Keller told reporters. “He couldn’t defend any of his radical positions, and it really showed.”
Both candidates will be back on the stump on Wednesday, with Election Day less than two weeks away and early voting well underway.
Before Tuesday, the polls had narrowed considerably, with Average of FiveThirtyEight now showing Fetterman ahead by less than 3 points, up from almost 11 points six weeks ago.
Will McDuffie is one of seven ABC News campaign reporters embedded in battleground states across the country. Watch all the twists and turns of midterm election coverage every Sunday on Hulu’s “Power Trip: Those Who Seek Power and Those Who Pursue It” with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.