Photograph: Greg Nash / EPA
The right to abortion took center stage during the Pennsylvania Senate seat debate on Tuesday night, as Mehmet Oz, a prominent Republican doctor and candidate, said abortion decisions should be left to “women,” doctors, local political leaders “, while John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate, criticized the uncompromising stance of the GOP.
The debate in Harrisburg began with Oz, a former surgeon and longtime host of the television show Dr Oz, discussing his desire to make “Washington civil again.” The Trump-backed Republican said he wanted to “unify, not divide.”
But Oz soon returned to a Republican 2022 playbook featuring fighting fighting in the United States, as he referred to Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, as a “left-wing extremist” who held “radical positions.”
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It set the tone for a controversial evening where the couple clashed over abortion, Pennsylvania’s minimum wage – which at $ 7.25 is lower than each of its six neighboring states – and the economy, in what it has become one of the most popular elections in the United States.
Fetterman and Oz are vying to replace Pat Toomey, a retired Republican, and with the Senate equally divided between the two parties, both are desperate to win in a state that Joe Biden garnered with 80,000 votes in 2020.
This was the most high-profile appearance of Fetterman’s campaign, since he suffered a stroke in mid-May, which left him with hearing processing problems, in which the brain struggles to understand the spoken word.
To meet Fetterman’s conditions, which he believes are improving every day, two 70-inch monitors were placed over the moderators’ heads, which displayed the transcribed text of their questions and the text of Oz’s answers.
“We also talk about the elephant in the room,” Fetterman said in his opening remarks. “I had a stroke. He [Oz] never let it be forgotten ”.
The Democrat was referring to the Republican’s campaign that launched nasty attacks on Fetterman, with Oz aide Rachel Tripp claiming that Fetterman would not have a stroke if he “never ate a vegetable in his life.” In August, the Oz campaign released what he said were “concessions” he was prepared to make during a debate with Fetterman, which included a promise to “pay for any additional medical staff he might need while waiting”.
Oz has since tried to distance himself from the tone of his campaign, but recently said on Fox Business: “I don’t think there are subtitles in the Senate chamber.”
Fetterman, 53, released a report from his doctor last week stating that he “has no job restrictions and can work fully in public offices,” but the doctor noted that Fetterman has a hard time processing some words.
In a televised interview in early October, Fetterman said that he sometimes misses words, or that he “mixes” words together when he speaks, and there were times when his problems with speech were evident during the debate. The Democrat seemed to struggle to find certain words and took longer than Oz to answer questions while he read the subtitles on the screen.
“It knocked me out, but I’ll keep going back up,” Fetterman said of the stroke on Tuesday. “And this campaign is all about, for me it’s about fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania who has ever been shot down and has to get back up.”
The couple were asked about abortion at the start of the debate. Nationally, Democrats have drawn attention to the role of Republicans in the historic Roe v Wade decision that was overturned in June of this year. Republicans, particularly in politically moderate states like Pennsylvania, have tried to avoid the problem.
Oz was asked, “Abortion should be banned in America,” but declined to answer directly, suggesting instead that “there should be no federal government involvement” and that states should be able to decide their own. abortion law.
“I want women, doctors, local political leaders, to let the democracy that has always allowed our nation to thrive, come up with the best ideas so that states can decide for themselves,” Oz said, in comments that they were instantly mocked online.
Fetterman said he would “struggle to restore” Roe v Wade, who said “it should be the law”.
“If you believe that the choice of your reproductive freedom belongs to Dr. Oz, then you have a choice. But if you believe that the choice for abortion belongs to you and your doctor, that’s why I fight, “the Democrat said.
Fetterman, who spent 13 years as mayor of Braddock, a small borough outside Pittsburgh, rose to national fame in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when as Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania he vigorously rejected Trump’s claims about election fraud, a at one point referring to the then president as “no different than any other random internet troll”.
He also attracted attention for his atypical – for a politician – appearance. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, Fetterman is usually seen wearing hoodies during campaign events and has tattoos on his forearms, including nine on his right arm that mark the dates people were killed “through violence” in Braddock while he was mayor.
Oz is best known for hosting the Dr Oz Show, a daytime television program about medical problems that, he said Tuesday, “ruffled a lot of feathers.”
The show also promoted trendy treatments and ineffective products, and Oz was repeatedly dubbed a “snake oil salesman.” In 2014 he was asked to appear before a Senate committee, where he was reprimanded by senators for his promotion of “miracle” diet pills that the medical community agreed did not work.
Fetterman’s campaign had tried to mitigate expectations before the debate and on Monday issued a memo stating that the debate is “not in John’s format”, pointing out that some had been disappointed with Fetterman’s performance in the debates during the primary. democratic this spring.
“John is five months after his stroke and Oz has literally spent the past two decades in a television studio; if there is an advantage at home, it is certainly his, “Rebecca Katz, Fetterman’s communications consultant, told the New York Times.
At times Fetterman’s speech held him back, but he refuted Republicans’ suggestions – repeated through countless TV commercials in the state – that he was “soft on crime,” pointing to successes in bringing down armed crime in Braddock.
Oz, Fetterman said, “He has never attempted to deal with crime in his entire career, except showing up for photo shoots here in Philadelphia.”
On the minimum wage, Oz said “market forces” would raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage by $ 7.25, the lowest amount allowed by federal law and an amount, if adjusted for inflation, which is the minimum wage. lowest in decades.
Fetterman said he “absolutely” supports the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, adding, “I think it’s a shame at $ 7.25 an hour.”
As the debate drew to a close, both candidates were asked what their party’s potential candidates were for the 2024 presidential election. Fetterman said he would support Biden if the president ran again.
In tacit acknowledgment of Trump’s division and deep unpopularity in parts of the country, Oz was initially less equivocal, saying only that he would “support whoever the Republican party sets up”.
A moderator reminded viewers that Trump had backed Oz – an action Trump rarely concedes to those who might let him down – and asked Oz why he wouldn’t return that support.
This prompted Oz, perhaps mindful of his supporter’s notoriously emotional and combustible nature, to clarify his position.
“Oh, I know,” Oz said. “I would support Donald Trump if he decides to run for president.”