ERIE, Pennsylvania — During his much-anticipated debate against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, Lieutenant General John Fetterman was asked to address two conflicting claims: one said he never supported fracking and one says he’s always been in favor of fracking.
“Uh, I’m for fracking, and, I’m not — I’m not — I’m for fracking, and I stand, and I’m for fracking,” Fetterman said.
As he tried unsuccessfully to resolve the two opposing emotions, one party watching the argument, which was largely cheerful and thrown at Oz, fell silent.
Some in the audience turned to look at each other, gritting their teeth. One person in the back even let out a groan.
Obviously that’s not the kind of answer – or overall argument performance – a room full of Fetterman supporters had hoped for. The cracking moment seemed to neatly capture the gaps in the Lieutenant Colonel’s speech after he suffered a stroke in May, as well as his difficulty Tuesday night in fending off attacks by the lieutenant colonel. Oz while correcting his auditory processing problems with closed captioning.
Fetterman kicked off Tuesday night’s debate – the only one in the Pennsylvania Senate race – by warning viewers that he would have trouble answering questions fluently.
“I might miss some words in this debate, let’s put the two together,” Fetterman said, repeating what became a mantra as he recovered from a stroke in May.
That caveat was heeded, as Fetterman’s deliberate, sometimes confused responses struggled to keep up with the ticking clock that dictated the lengths of his and Oz’s answers.
Fetterman’s paused speech was in stark contrast to the speed at which Oz skimmed through his responses, sometimes close to the speed of an auctioneer.
Some of the answers came more naturally to Fetterman, such as the one about raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. The hopeful Democrat also scored with a crowd of about two dozen Fetterman supporters in Erie for his response to health care and zingers hitting Oz about “10 giant mansions. The crowd sometimes mumbled “bullshit” and Oz had to be silent while it was his turn to speak, all the while focusing on the Erie County Democratic Party office, which was plastered inside and out with Fetterman signs. .
Jim Wertz, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, told the group before the debate: “Let’s rally the army. “Take care of the big man, I’m sure he’ll be fine tonight.”
But problems with Fetterman’s statement clearly surfaced throughout the debate, particularly on the question of fracking.
However, Oz’s argumentative performance wasn’t perfect either.
At one point, he was asked specifically if he supported Senator Lindsey Graham’s nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks. Oz said he would leave abortion decisions to the states, perhaps hinting that he would vote no, but he didn’t say that at any point. The Erie crowd grumbled — with one onlooker shouting, “YES OR NO!”
One of the moderators sought to clarify the question, and instead of stating his point, Oz simply said that he answered the question three times.
A question about whether he misleads viewers of his show about the value of a number unproven medical treatments also seemed to want to throw Oz, as he seemed to admit that some of his TV doctor’s advice wasn’t always right.
“It’s a TV show, like it’s a TV show,” Oz said.
For weeks, the Fetterman campaign has tried to dampen expectations for the debate, the only one in the contentious Senate race scheduled before the November election.
Their implementation starts with a Interview on NBC News, in which Fetterman used closed captioning to communicate with reporters. The system, he said, allowed him to understand questions faster as he continued to struggle with auditory processing after his stroke in May.
Then the Fetterman campaign launched a update on his health conditionwith the candidate’s doctor stating that “he is recovering well from his stroke and his health has continued to improve,” despite lingering problems with hearing processing.
Fetterman’s need for closed captions for the debate became a point of discussion for the GOP and part of the lieutenant colonel’s strategy to lower expectations on the big night.
Finally on Monday, the day before the debate, the Fetterman campaign sent a memo to reporters arguing that Oz has a “major positive advantage” from his decades as a TV celebrity.
“We’ll admit – this is not John’s format,” the campaign said in a memo to reporters. “Look beyond the debates from elementary school earlier this year.”
In April, Fetterman gave flatter performances in televised debates against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) and State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, both of whom had ball-pointed rhetoric. more in their favor.
The Fetterman campaign was also released recently an ad where the candidate tackles his strokeforce his recovery with access to healthcare and family leave.
“He is honest. Jasmine Flores, a member of the Erie City Council, says he’s not a good public speaker.
The Oz campaign pushed for seven debates with Fetterman, but the candidates agreed on only one. Fetterman’s reluctance to argue became a frequently discussed point for Oz.
Oz also raised expectations for his debate performance by ramping up the event on Monday night Interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox Newsfollowing his pattern of taking interviews mainly from friendly shops and avoiding media availability at his events, which are often not announced in advance.
Although the race started off erratic and the initial GOP platform cracked, the Oz campaign gradually garnered more support from undecided voters throughout September and into October, narrowing a gap of about 10 points to an average deficit of only 2.3 points, according to FiveThirtyEight. The RealCelarPolitics average sent Fetterman up just 1.3 points in the debate.
Early voting has begun in Pennsylvania, with voters also able to request an absentee ballot and make their choice as soon as they want.
Bill Tarbell, an Erie resident who attended the watch party, said he thought Oz was dodging too much, telling The Daily Beast, “I don’t think he answered any of the questions.” But Tarbell also admitted that Fetterman has struggled at times “because of his disability.”
“Fetterman did the best he could,” he said.
Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.