Elections Government

Fetterman’s Health Sparks Bitter Campaign Feud With Oz

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democrat running for U.S. Senate, will not take part in a debate hosted by a western Pennsylvania media outlet. The move was strongly criticized by Mehmet Oz, his GOP opponent.

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Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), left, and Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) are running for a hotly-contested U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R). The campaign has turned ugly in recent weeks, with sniping over Fetterman’s health and disagreement over a proposed debate.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democrat running for U.S. Senate, will not take part in a debate hosted by a western Pennsylvania media outlet. The move was strongly criticized by Mehmet Oz, his GOP opponent.

Oz has been issuing press releases recently asking Fetterman to participate in a series of debates. Debates are common in high-profile races.

“We were just informed …. the Fetterman campaign is declining to attend the KDKA-TV debate on September 6. John Fetterman is a liar, a liberal, and a coward,” said Brittany Yanick, the communications director for Oz.

“I will not be participating in a debate the first week of September, but look forward to having a productive discussion about how we can move forward and have a real conversation on this once Dr. Oz and his team are ready to take this seriously,” Fetterman said in a statement.

Holly Otterbein, a national political reporter at Politico, reported a KDKA-TV journalist said the Fetterman campaign told the station they had “not ruled out a future debate at KDKA.”

Fetterman suffered a life-threatening stroke and needed surgery in mid-May after experiencing previously unreported medical problems and following years of ignoring doctor’s orders, which Fetterman admitted he had done in June.

The stroke, surgery and recovery left Fetterman off the campaign trail until early August, but the candidate–who is ahead of Oz in most polls–has said he is able to serve in the senate. The candidate has attended numerous events recently across Pennsylvania.

Recently, Fetterman acknowledged that he is working to improve his “auditory processing and speech” as he recovers.

“The only issues lingering from the stroke is just having some auditory processing every now and then. I’ll miss a word, or I might push two words together sometime in a conversation. But that’s really the only issue and it’s getting better and better,” Fetterman said in an interview with KDKA-TV earlier this month.

Oz’s Yanick suggested last week that Fetterman might be “too sick to debate,” while Oz campaign Senior Communications Advisor Rachel Tripp told BusinessInsider.com, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke.”

The comments by Oz’s campaign were criticized around the nation on social media.

“I had a stroke. I survived it. I’m truly so grateful to still be here today,” Fetterman said in a statement responding to the criticism. “I know politics can be nasty, but even then, I could never imagine ridiculing someone for their health challenges.”

Fetterman’s campaign then released a letter signed by more than 100 doctors saying Oz, best known for his TV show, has promoted “unproven, ill-advised and at times potentially dangerous treatments.”

On Tuesday, Oz’s campaign emailed reporters a tongue-in-cheek “list of concessions” they were willing to make to Fetterman for the debate. The list included not hurting Fetterman’s feelings, allowing him to have notes and an earpiece so his team can communicate with him, allowing him to call for a bathroom break at any point and paying for “additional medical personnel” he might need to be on standby.

“Today’s statement from Dr. Oz’s team made it abundantly clear that they think it is funny to mock a stroke survivor. I chose not to participate in this farce. Any sense that these ‘challenges’ were done in good faith is damaged,” Fetterman said in response. “My recovery may be a joke to Dr. Oz and his team, but it’s real for me.”

While being interviewed on a Pittsburgh radio show Tuesday, Oz distanced himself from his own campaign’s statements.

“The campaign’s been saying lots of things, both of them. My position is–I can only speak to what I’m saying,” Oz said.

“Either stand by the sh**ty things your campaign is saying on your behalf or denounce them,” said Rebecca Katz, a senior advisor to and spokeswoman for the Fetterman campaign.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden, a Pennsylvania native, made a stop at Wilkes University in Luzerne County to stump for Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

Fetterman wasn’t at the event, but the president said he had spoken with Fetterman.

“Well, I tell you what, Fetterman is a hell of a guy,” Biden said. “A powerful voice for working people. And he’s going to make a great United States senator.”

The president drew attention for a gaffe at the end of the speech when he called on voters to elect Fetterman, who he referred to as “that big ol’ boy,” to be governor instead of senator. However, Biden earlier correctly stated that Fetterman was running for U.S. Senate.


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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at josh@sauconsource.com.

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