US Senate hopeful Fetterman tries to calm health problems during Pennsylvania rally

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and US Senate candidate John Fetterman makes remarks during a Labor Day celebration with US President Joe Biden at United Steelworkers of America Local Union 2227 in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, US, 5 September 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 11 (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman tried Sunday to allay health concerns after suffering a near-fatal stroke earlier this year during an abortion rights campaign rally in suburban Philadelphia.

Fetterman sometimes spoke in a hesitant and truncated manner, targeting his Republican opponent in the Pennsylvania Senate race, famed physician Mehmet Oz, for doubting his eligibility to serve. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I have a doctor in my life who does that.”

He spoke for about 10 minutes before slowly leaving the stage. He walked into the crowd, shaking hands, greeting people and smiling at selfies as AC-DC’s “Back in Black” played.

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Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, has largely stayed off the campaign trail since a stroke in May that he said nearly killed him. Oz has taken up the matter, suggesting that Fetterman’s health would prevent him from performing his duties if elected.

Polls show Fetterman is leading Oz in a race that will help determine whether President Joe Biden’s Democrats keep their razor-thin margin in the US Senate. The race for the seat of outgoing Republican Pat Toomey is important enough that both Biden and former President Donald Trump have traveled to the state in recent weeks to promote their parties’ candidates.

On condition of anonymity to discuss their concerns, five state Democratic Party officials interviewed in the past two weeks expressed concerns about Fetterman’s health and whether Republican attacks would affect voters.

“It’s important for people to see John Fetterman on the campaign trail and see for themselves that he’s okay. In a state where one (percent) point can decide an election, it matters,” said Joe Foster, a Democratic committee member of the state. from the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Fetterman held his first public event after his stroke in August and has since made a handful of campaign appearances, including at a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh. His campaign confirmed that he relies on captioning to conduct interviews due to hearing loss. He has said the symptoms are temporary.

Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Cavello said he’s up for the job.

“John marched in the rain for over two hours during the Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh and then spoke at two other events,” Cavello told Reuters on Friday. “Anyone who has seen John speak knows that while he is still recovering, he is more capable of fighting for PA than Dr. Oz will ever be.

Fetterman joined the Planned Parenthood advocacy group for abortion rights in Philadelphia’s largest suburban district as he tries to stir up female voters concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to end the nationwide right to abortion.

“Women are the reason we can win,” Fetterman said.

The stakes are high in Pennsylvania, where the governor’s race will decide whether women will keep their access to abortions. Fetterman has vowed to help protect that entry, while Oz says he is “100% pro-life” but supports exceptions in cases of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg University in Pennsylvania, said bread-and-butter campaign events like the Sunday version take on extra significance after the stroke.

“He doesn’t have to be pre-stroke John Fetterman, but people need to see that he is capable,” Borick said.

Oz used Fetterman’s initial refusal to argue to argue that his rival either feared him or concealed the extent of the damage done by the stroke.

“John Fetterman is either healthy and he’s avoiding debate because he doesn’t want to answer for his radical left views, or he’s too sick to participate,” Oz told reporters last week, according to media accounts.

Fetterman has now agreed to a debate in October, but his campaign is looking at the possibility of using a captioned monitor for the event so he doesn’t miss out on words as he continues to recover from his stroke.

“Let’s be clear, this has never really been about debate for Dr. Oz,” Fetterman said in a statement. “This whole case was about Dr. Oz and his team mocking me for having a stroke because they have nothing else.”

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Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, additional reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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