Fetterman’s Debate Showing Raises Democratic Anxieties in Senate Battle


Earlier in the race, the Oz campaign mocked Mr. Fetterman repeatedly over his health. But at a campaign event on Wednesday in Harrisburg, Pa., as he appeared with Nikki R. Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, Dr. Oz sought to keep his focus firmly on matters of public safety, in keeping with Republican efforts to tar Mr. Fetterman as radically anti-law enforcement, a message he has vehemently rejected.

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“Last night’s debate focused on my desire to bring balance to Washington, a desire to bring together left and right, on issues that are bipartisan in their very nature,” Dr. Oz said.

Still, Dr. Oz’s allies are not being so sensitive about Mr. Fetterman’s health. A new ad from a super PAC affiliated with former President Donald J. Trump says that the Pennsylvania Democrat “just isn’t right.”

During the debate, Mr. Fetterman tried to reposition his difficulties as a symbol of his grit, part of his brand as a tattooed former mayor of a battered steel town who can relate to working-class Pennsylvanians. His campaign had sought to lower expectations ahead of the clash, sending a memo to reporters that highlighted Mr. Fetterman’s challenges with auditory processing and noting that even before the stroke, debates were not his strong suit.

Even as some pundits and strategists argued that skipping a debate would ultimately be forgiven, Mr. Fetterman wanted to appear, campaign officials said, because he believed Pennsylvania voters deserved an opportunity to hear from their candidates.

In his opening remarks, he said of the stroke, “It knocked me down, but I’m going to keep coming back up.” He added, “This campaign is all about, to me, is about fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania that got knocked down, that needs to get back up, and fighting for all forgotten communities all across Pennsylvania that also got knocked down that needs to keep to get back up.”


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