Fetterman and his team have responded by questioning the strategy, labeling it “grotesque” and suggesting it’s even worse than politics as usual.
“One candidate had a stroke 3 months ago, and the other is a professional TV personality, so our eyes are open to whose strengths that is,” said Joe Calvello, a spokesman for Fetterman, in response to questions about the debates. “However, John is ready to debate Oz – we’re not going to do it on Oz’s terms and timeline.”
Fetterman has said that his stroke nearly killed him and that he didn’t do enough to take care of his health. When he fully resurfaced earlier this month with an event in Erie, he said, “Three months ago, my life could have been over, but I’m so grateful to be here tonight.”
He followed his return with a union-focused rally in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and he will headline a rally Sunday in Mercer County.
Fetterman’s speech was halting at events in Erie and Pittsburgh, with the candidate sometimes taking long pauses and dropping words. Democrats who attended a Fetterman fundraiser over the summer reported a similar experience with the lieutenant governor — his speech was focused but sometimes halting.
It’s something Republicans have used to question whether Fetterman is fit to campaign for the Senate.
In response, Oz spokeswoman Rachel Tripp quipped: “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a stroke and wouldn’t be in a position to lie.” constantly for him. “
Fetterman’s campaign has been tight-lipped on details about the candidate’s recovery. A spokesman for Fetterman has said the candidate is “doing great,” “walking 5-6 miles a day” and “following doctor’s orders,” but Fetterman was wary of speaking one-on-one with reporters after the hit. in the brain. and discussing his health challenges.
Oz’s move to focus on his health appears to capture this uncertainty.
To criticize Fetterman for refusing to debate Oz, campaign communications director Brittany Yanick said, “If John is too sick to debate and is worried he can’t stand on camera for more than 10 minutes, then he should say so.”
Just weeks ago, when asked about Fetterman’s first event, Oz said he was “over the moon” that the lieutenant governor was back on the campaign trail, saying, “I’d love to have him out there talking about what he wants to do for done. Pennsylvania is a better place.”
Fetterman and his campaign have responded to Oz’s attacks with calls for sensitivity and criticism of the strategy.
“I had a stroke. I survived it. I’m really, really grateful to still be here today,” Fetterman said in response to the Oz campaign’s “ate a vegetable” statement. “I know politics can be bad, but even then, I could never imagine making fun of someone for their health challenges.”
Fetterman’s wife, Gisele, called the vegetable statement “grotesque,” and Val Arkoosh, a physician and one of the Democrats running against Fetterman in the Senate primary, told reporters that, “No real doctor, or any human being well, I’d never make fun of a hit-and-run victim.”
But Barney Keller, a spokesman for Oz’s campaign, told CNN on Wednesday that they stand by their questions about Fetterman’s health, including the suggestion that he eat more vegetables, and argued that the focus is mostly on make Fetterman argue.
“I don’t see how it’s ridiculous to encourage someone to have a healthier lifestyle,” Keller said. “Nobody is attacking his health. We all hope he gets better. What we’re criticizing is that he’s lying about his health. That’s an important distinction.”
Keller says Oz’s campaign will continue to focus on Fetterman’s health “as long as he continues to lie about it.”
“Since the beginning, the guy has had two Zoom interviews and two public appearances and all we’re saying is stop pretending everything is fine and just say you can’t argue because you’re not able to,” Keller concluded. .
Calvello responded to the accusation of lying by saying that Fetterman has been “clear about his health. As he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a few weeks ago, he is in speech therapy and as he told KDKA, he still has some problems with some hearing. processing.”
“We’re trying to have an honest conversation about health, a conversation that thousands of Pennsylvanians have probably had with their families,” Calvello said. “But let’s be clear: Last night, the Oz team made an extremely insensitive and frankly vulnerable remark about John’s health.”
Keller’s comment reflects how Republicans have begun to argue privately and publicly that Fetterman’s health is on the table as a campaign issue.
“You have to put Fetterman on the defensive and this is the way to do it,” said a senior Republican strategist who works on Senate races.
The operative acknowledged that Oz and Republicans “have to be careful how you talk about this,” but that “raising questions about his health is completely fair and on the table.”
Democrats who have attended Fetterman events have been far more forgiving.
“When somebody’s recovering from a serious situation like that,” said Pittsburgh steelworker Jojo Burgess, “I think he’s back pretty quickly, to be honest with you.”