Fetterman's heated debate sparks concern among Democrats

Fetterman’s heated debate sparks concern among Democrats

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman’s heated debate performance stoked concern within his party on Wednesday as leaders weighed whether it would significantly alter a race that could decide control of the US Senate and the future of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Appearing on stage five months after his stroke, Fetterman, the 53-year-old Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, struggled to finish his sentences and he mixed words throughout the hour-long televised event. .

It was no surprise to medical professionals, who noted that the format, including response times, was the opposite of what someone recovering from a stroke would need to support their communication. . And for those who have known Fetterman for years, the debate served as a reminder that he was never a smooth speaker, even before the stroke.

But with so much on his campaign, some Democrats have expressed concern that Fetterman’s appearance at Tuesday night’s debate was a mistake. While he would have been criticized for skipping the forum, they felt it would have been better than exposing him in such a difficult environment – for a performance that his Republican opponent, Dr Mehmet Ozmay exploit in advertisements and social media clips in the final days of the contest.

“In retrospect, he probably shouldn’t have debated,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, said in an interview. “But the key is that he recovers from a stroke.”

“The only way to recover from this,” he added, “is for John to go out in public as much as possible, be seen, be interviewed and do whatever he can to let people know that he is ready to take office.”

In fact, Fetterman appeared at a Wednesday night rally on an outdoor stage in Pittsburgh and, before a crowd of what the campaign said was 3,000, spoke quietly for 13 minutes before introducing musician Dave Matthews.

Fetterman acknowledged that making the debate “wasn’t exactly easy” just months after a stroke.

“In fact, I don’t think that has ever been done before in American political history,” he said.

After the debate, Fetterman said, “something remarkable happened”: the campaign raised more than $2 million. He then launched into a stump speech that both attacked Oz and aimed to turn his recovery into a way to connect with voters.

“After that stroke, I got knocked down and got back up,” Fetterman said. “And I’m going to fight for everyone in Pennsylvania who’s ever been knocked down and had to get back up.”

Fetterman is also expected to speak at a Friday night dinner in Philadelphia for the state’s Biden-led Democratic Party and Vice President Kamala Harris.

During the debate, the Democratic Senate candidate again declined to commit to releasing his medical records, but independent experts consulted by The Associated Press said Fetterman appears to be recovering remarkably well.

“In my opinion, he did very well,” said Dr. Sonia Sheth, of Northwestern Medicine Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in suburban Chicago, who followed the debate. “He had his stroke less than a year ago and will continue to recover over the next year. He made a few mistakes in his answers, but overall he was able to formulate fluid and thoughtful responses.

Still, the debate was hard to watch for Brooke Hatfield, a speech pathologist from Maryland who has worked extensively with stroke patients.

“Putting a timer on someone adds pressure to an already hard-working system,” Hatfield said. “Ultimately, it’s important to remember that changes in communication are different from changes in intelligence, reasoning, and other cognitive skills.”

For now, the political implications of the debate are unclear.

The Pennsylvania contest represents the Democratic Party’s best opportunity to overthrow a Senate seat currently held by Republicans, who are aggressively challenging Democratic incumbents in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire. Any changes in Pennsylvania, where at least 639,000 mail-in votes have already been returned, could jeopardize Democrats’ efforts to retain the Senate, which they hold by the narrowest margins.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told CNN on Wednesday that the debate was “hard to watch, frankly.”

But he said voters had a “tough choice” between Fetterman and Oz, a heart surgeon and TV personality.

Other US senators have suffered strokes, but none have faced fierce competition so quickly. Both ways. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Ben Ray Lujan, DN.M., revealed this year that they suffered minor strokes. Van Hollen is likely to easily win re-election in his deeply Democratic state this year, and Lujan won’t be on the ballot again until 2026.

Former Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., had a massive stroke in 2012 and would lose re-election four years later.

Over the years, many other senators have faced questions about their age. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa would be 95 when his next term ends, assuming he is re-elected on Nov. 8..

Fetterman’s campaign and other Democrats sought to focus Wednesday on Oz’s abortion comments during the debate. The Republican said he wanted abortion access to be decided by “women, doctors, local political leaders,” a comment that suggested he believed officials had a role to play in determining though women can get the procedure, which remains legal in Pennsylvania.

Fetterman’s new ad focuses on Oz’s reference to “local political leaders,” repeating the phrase three times in 30 seconds.

“Oz would let politicians like Doug Mastriano ban abortions without exception,” the narrator says, referring to the state’s polarizing Republican candidate for governor. “Oz is too extreme for Pennsylvania.”

Biden shared the new announcement on social media.

The White House did not say whether Biden watched the debate. But press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden found Fetterman “just as capable as always” to govern.

“In his conversations he’s had with Lt. Governor Fetterman, he finds the Lt. Governor to be a strong and genuine advocate for the middle class,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that the president “finds him incredibly impressive. “.

Meanwhile, Oz was attending an event in the state capitol on Wednesday with former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate. Oz avoided Fetterman’s health at the event. , as he did during the debate, instead focusing on crime.

“I swear here and now that as a US senator, I will do what is right for our communities,” he said. “Among them, I will let the police do their job. I want our prosecutors to do their job.

But the debate was on the minds of many voters.

Barbara Orr, a psychotherapist and registered Democrat who supports Fetterman, said she and a group of like-minded friends who watched the debate were saddened and nervous, but insensitive to their decision to vote for him.

Her “heart ached,” she said, and she worried that voters who didn’t know the candidates would take a bad impression off her.

“Unfortunately people who don’t know what he stands for and haven’t heard of him elsewhere might think he’s not smart,” said Orr, who lives in Lampeter.

She added, “I hope some people have at least put on their empathy pants and realized he’s trying to get over something.”

Democratic voter Frank Mallon, a 61-year-old driving instructor who lives in suburban Philadelphia, said Fetterman “looked like he wasn’t sure of himself.”

“Yeah, I know the disability,” Mallon said. “Do I think everyone who has watched this debate knows about his disability? No, I don’t.

He said he would always vote for Fetterman.

Fetterman’s allies noted that he also performed poorly in a primary debate earlier in the year before the stroke.

“You have to settle with people for a minute. People on the Democratic side were terrified of what was going to happen,” said Jamie Perrapato, executive director of Turn PA Blue. “His performance was actually better than I expected.”

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how many Pennsylvania voters paid close attention.

Bonnie Chang, a telecommunications retiree from Doylestown who describes herself as a liberal supporter of Fetterman, didn’t listen.

“I was so scared that I didn’t watch the debate,” Chang said. “First of all, Oz is a TV guy. He’s honed his skills. … I think Fetterman is in a no-win situation. He’s recovering from his stroke.

“I’m ready to give him time to recover.”


People reported from New York. AP writers Carla K. Johnson in Washington state; Jessie Wardarski in Pittsburgh; Mike Catalini in Morrisville, Pennsylvania; and Seung Min Kim in Washington, DC, contributed.


Follow AP’s election coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

Visit https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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