Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. and senatorial candidate John Fetterman speaks at a Labor Day visit to United Steelworkers of America Local Union 2227 in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania on September 5, 2022.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman on Wednesday committed to a single debate with his Republican rival, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
The announcement came after weeks of mounting pressure from Oz’s campaign, which has questioned whether Fetterman is using his recent stroke as an excuse to avoid a public faceoff.
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,” said Oz, a celebrity doctor endorsed by former President Donald Trump, at a press conference Tuesday.
In a statement on Wednesday, Fetterman responded, “We’re absolutely going to debate Dr. Oz, and it was always our intent to do that.”
“It has simply only ever been about addressing some of the lingering issues of my stroke, the auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to work that out,” Fetterman’s statement said.
The Democratic lieutenant governor added that the debate will be “sometime in the middle to end of October — as each of the past two Pennsylvania Senate races have — on a major television station to reach voters across the Commonwealth.”
Details are still being finalized, Fetterman said.
“But let’s be clear this has never really been about debates for Dr. Oz,” he added. “This whole thing has been about Dr. Oz and his team mocking me for having a stroke because they’ve got nothing else.”
Politico first reported on Fetterman’s announcement in an interview earlier Wednesday.
Fetterman’s campaign last month had refused to participate in an early September debate against Oz, accusing the Republican’s campaign of mocking his status as a stroke survivor and acting in bad faith after it released a statement offering to “pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby.”
Fetterman said in a statement at the time that he was “eager” to debate Oz, adding, “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.”
Fetterman said he “almost died” after suffering a stroke in May, just days before he won the Democratic nomination to compete for the Pennsylvania Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
The key swing state’s Senate seat offers a major pickup opportunity for both parties, as Democrats fight to hold their razor-thin Senate majority and Republicans push to wrest control of the chamber.
The stroke kept Fetterman off the campaign trail for three months. But polls of the race show he has held a lead over Oz, who has been bludgeoned with attacks characterizing him as an elitist with a stronger connection to New Jersey than Pennsylvania.
Fetterman last month held his first public rally since the stroke, and has conducted just four interviews with media organizations, including Politico.
The outlet reported that Fetterman “sometimes missed words while speaking” during the 17-minute videoconference, but “spoke at a normal pace” and discussed a range of issues. “He did not request to see the questions beforehand,” Politico reported.