Dr. Mehmet Oz and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey call on John Fetterman to debate in Pa. Senate race

PHILADELPHIA– Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz joined forces with US Senator Pat Toomey on Tuesday to publicly urge his Democratic rival John Fetterman to participate in a debate at their high-profile race in Pennsylvania.

Oz and Toomey, who held a press conference in Philadelphia, also questioned Fetterman’s suitability for the post and criticized his reluctance to speak to reporters since he suffered a stroke in May. Fetterman was sidelined for most of the summer while recovering, although he did appear with President Joe Biden at a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh on Monday and spoke briefly at a number of events.

“What happens when a US Senator is elected in a major state like Pennsylvania without ever having answered a legitimate question from a voter, a newscaster … at a stage of debate?” said Oz. “What would that do for future campaigns across the country mean?”

Fetterman’s campaign countered Tuesday that Oz’s insistence on a debate was about “mocking John about having a stroke,” and claimed Fetterman’s doctor said he should campaign and serve in the Senate with no problems.

“Anyone who has seen John speak knows that while he is still recovering he is in a better position to fight for the PA than Dr. Oz will ever be,” said a statement from Fetterman’s campaign.

The press conference featuring Toomey — the retiring senator both candidates are hoping to replace — signals Oz’s growing aggressiveness in confronting Fetterman as the famous heart surgeon attempts to gain ground in polls just nine weeks before Election Day. Democrats see the race as one of their best chances nationally to flip a Republican-held seat, and the winner could help decide the chamber’s partisan control next year.

Fetterman has only given three media interviews and held no press conferences since his stroke. He has admitted that he has reduced auditory processing speed – he can’t always react quickly to what he hears – and conducted all three interviews via closed-captioned video in real time. Fetterman also struggled to speak fluently during brief public speeches.

Oz, who was backed by former President Donald Trump, has accused Fetterman of lying about the severity of the stroke’s effects. Fetterman’s campaign says he’s not lying and is willing to debate, but they want a debate that can consider the lingering effects of his stroke. A campaign spokesman declined to elaborate on what that might require.

About a dozen news organizations and other groups have reached out to the campaigns to host a debate, Fetterman’s campaign said.

Oz has announced his willingness to join Five. The first, proposed by Pittsburgh television station KDKA, would have taken place Tuesday night. Fetterman’s campaign told the broadcaster Tuesday night didn’t work.

The station’s news director, Shawn Hoder, said KDKA is still willing to host a televised debate at a later date and is awaiting news from Fetterman’s campaign as to when that might be. The broadcaster needs about two weeks’ notice to hold a debate, Höder said.

Health concerns aside, political strategists suggest Fetterman also wants to avoid a debate — or push it as late as possible in the campaign — because he’s ahead in polls. Leading candidates often feel they have less incentive to join a debate and risk their opponent scoring points, especially considering Oz is a former television show host.

“You’ve got a lot more to lose, especially when you’re John Fetterman and you’re on stage two, three, four, five times with a guy who’s lived his life on television,” said Michael Manzo, a Harrisburg Lobbyist and former Democratic campaign strategist. “It’s almost a no-win situation for Fetterman.”

Fetterman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on a strategy to avoid or delay debate.

In any case, with candidates able to communicate with voters through social media, debates aren’t as important or substantive as they used to be, said Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic campaign strategist.

In the Democratic primary, before suffering the stroke, Fetterman skipped some candidate forums and drew criticism from his rivals. But he also joined a few other forums where – as the perceived frontrunner in polls – he was the main target of attacks.

Rivals in particular were following Fetterman over an incident in 2013 when he was mayor of the small western Pennsylvania town of Braddock and, shotgun in hand, confronted an unarmed black man, suspecting the man was involved in gunfire nearby. Police did not press charges against Fetterman or the other man in the matter.

In the last four US Senate elections in Pennsylvania, debate did not play a major role. All debates took place in mid to late October, with two debates in each race – with the exception of the 2012 competition, which had one debate.

Toomey – who won in 2010 and 2016 – said if Fetterman is honest about his condition he should debate with Oz.

“If John Fetterman were elected to the Senate and he wasn’t able to communicate effectively, if he wasn’t able to engage with the press, if he wasn’t able to engage with his peers kicking, he wouldn’t be able to do his job,” Toomey said. “It’s just not possible to be an effective senator if you can’t communicate. It’s just the essence of the job.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://6abc.com/dr-mehmet-oz-john-fetterman-sen-pat-toomey-pennsylvania-politics/12208597/ Dr. Mehmet Oz and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey call on John Fetterman to debate in Pa. Senate race

Alley Einstein

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