Last Updated on September 3, 2022
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and Democrat nominee for U.S. Senate, John Fetterman, has declined to debate Trump-backed Mehmet Oz in early September. Fetterman, who suffered a stroke just days before Pennsylvania’s primary election in May, said he is still recovering. The Senate hopeful has stated that he still has trouble with speech and auditory processing while working back to full strength.
In a campaign statement Tuesday, Fetterman declined the offer and attacked Oz for suggesting it. Fetterman accused his opponent of thinking “it is funny to mock” his stroke recovery for challenging him to a debate.
“I’m eager to put my record and my values up against Dr. Oz’s any day of the week,” Fetterman said. “As I recover from this stroke and improve my auditory processing and speech, I look forward to continuing to meet with the people of Pennsylvania.”
The Oz campaign offered a number of concessions they were willing to make in order to get Fetterman to accept. This included paying for any medical staff that Fetterman would need to have on-hand, as well as allowing him “bathroom breaks and allowing him to have all of his notes on hand, along with an earpiece to obtain answers from his staff.”
Fetterman replied by saying the gestures from Oz’s campaign “made it abundantly clear that they think it is funny to mock a stroke survivor.”
“My recovery may be a joke to Dr. Oz and his team, but it’s real for me,” Fetterman said.
Brittany Yanick, a spokesperson for Oz, called Fetterman “a liar, a liberal, and a coward” in response to his refusal to debate last week. “Ok, so when will he debate?” she said. “He won’t ever say — not even in his latest whiny statement.”
The Oz campaign has challenged Fetterman to five debates ahead of the November election, though Fetterman has declined as he continues to struggle with public speaking. The Senate hopeful recently spoke for just five minutes during a campaign rally with the United Steelworkers (USW) on August 23.
John Fetterman today held his second rally since having a stroke in which he spoke for less than 5 minutes.
Here are the highlights. pic.twitter.com/lwo40YWcZi
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) August 23, 2022
Fetterman has enjoyed a lead over Dr. Oz for much of the campaign, though the margin has been inching down over the past few weeks. Two pollsters with solid track records — Trafalgar and Emerson College — both have Oz within four percentage points of Fetterman as of late August. Democrat-leaning polls have shown Fetterman up by as much as ten points.
Questions surrounding Fetterman’s health and mental faculties have continued to surround his campaign as he continues to refuse a debate with Oz. Christopher Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, told NBC News that Fetterman will have to debate Oz if he wants to win in November.
“There is a degree of pressure for Fetterman to demonstrate that he’s ready to go. It doesn’t mean he has to agree with everything. But he’s going to have to debate Oz this fall,” Borick said. I don’t think it’s highly salient in this campaign but given Fetterman’s health situation, he has to show he’s capable of occupying this role.”