Fetterman Ad Raises Stroke Amid Controversy As Oz Distances Himself From Campaign’s Attacks


John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate running against Republican Mehmet Oz for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, brings up the stroke he suffered in May in a new ad released Friday amid a week of controversy over his ability to communicate in a TV interview.

Key Facts

Fetterman begins the ad released Friday with a mention of his stroke and his relief at seeing his wife and children after the episode, telling viewers, “We’ve got to make it easier for people to spend time with those they love,” and launching into a pitch for his issues, including expanded healthcare.

In an interview with NBC News that aired Tuesday from his home in Pennsylvania, Fetterman used closed captioning to read questions posed verbally by journalist Dasha Burns and struggled to pronounce the word “empathetic.”

Following the interview, Burns said Fetterman had trouble engaging in small talk before the interview, telling the network’s Lester Holt: “It wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation,” a comment that drew sharp criticism from some fellow journalists.

Vox’s Kara Swisher and New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister, both of whom interviewed Fetterman recently, disputed Burns’ report, with Traister saying, “He understands everything. . . . It’s a hearing/auditory challenge.”

In an effort to distance himself from his own campaign’s negative comments about Fetterman’s health (Oz’s communications advisor Rachel Tripp said in August that if Fetterman “had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke”), Oz said Friday, also in an interview with NBC, that he would not speak to his own patients in the same way his campaign staff has spoken about Fetterman.

Chief Critic

Seizing on Fetterman’s use of closed captioning in the NBC interview and Burns’ comments, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Lizzie Litzow questioned his ability to serve in the Senate “if he can’t even get through a short amount of ‘small talk,’” she said in a statement, and also noted “closed captioning won’t always be involved” in Senate duties.

Key Background

Fetterman’s health has become a prominent issue in the race since he suffered a major stroke on May 13, and though Oz on Friday said he disagreed with some of the comments made by his staffers, he has also capitalized on Fetterman’s health woes, telling Fox Business a day earlier: “I don’t think there’s closed captioning on the floor of the Senate, and maybe he doesn’t need closed captioning when he’s actually moving around. But maybe he does. Again, lot​s​ of question marks, and voters deserve better​.” Fetterman, meanwhile, has disclosed few details about his health, aside from a letter from his doctor confirming his ability to campaign and serve. He has dropped hints in previous interviews, including one with the PennLive editorial board this week in which he admitted, “I certainly would not have been able to sit in front of you back in May or in June or in July,” referring to his health and ability to communicate. He has said he requires closed captioning, because he continues to struggle with auditory processing. Fetterman’s double-digit polling lead over Oz has narrowed over the past month to six points as of Friday, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average. The two are competing to fill Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat in a contest that is critical to Democrats’ ability to hold the Senate, which is evenly divided between both parties and slightly projected to stay in Democrats’ control.

What To Watch For

Oz and Fetterman will face off in a televised debate on October 25. Fetterman agreed to the debate under the condition that he could use closed captioning.

Further Reading

Fetterman Takes Double-Digit Lead Over Oz In New Pennsylvania Poll (Forbes)

Fetterman declines to commit to releasing more medical records and points to improvements in speech (CNN)

Fetterman’s use of captions is common in stroke recovery, experts say (The Washington Post)

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/saradorn/2022/10/14/fetterman-ad-raises-stroke-amid-controversy-as-oz-distances-himself-from-campaigns-attacks/