Fetterman Had Some 'Awkward' Moments in Debate With Oz

Though experts say that doesn't mean he's having any cognitive issues
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 26, 2022 12:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 26, 2022 7:04 AM CDT
Fetterman Had Some 'Awkward' Moments in Debate With Oz
This combination of file photos shows Democratic Senate candidate, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, left, and Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2022 photos.   (AP Photo)

More than five months after experiencing a stroke, Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman struggled at times to explain his positions and often spoke haltingly throughout a highly anticipated debate Tuesday against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz as they vie for a critical Senate seat, the AP reports. In the opening minutes of the debate, Fetterman addressed what he called the “elephant in the room.” “I had a stroke. He’s never let me forget that,” Fetterman said of Oz, who has persistently questioned his ability to serve in the Senate. “And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together, but it knocked me down and I’m going to keep coming back up.” When pressed to release his medical records later in the debate, he refused to commit.

Oz, a celebrity heart surgeon, ignored his opponent’s health challenges throughout the debate, instead seizing on Fetterman’s policies on immigration and crime and his support for President Biden. At one point, Oz said Fetterman, the state's lieutenant governor, was “trying to get as many murderers out of jail as possible.” “His extreme positions have made him untenable,” he charged. The forum had many of the trappings of a traditional debate, complete with heated exchanges and interruptions. But the impact of the stroke was apparent as Fetterman used closed-captioning posted above the moderator to help him process the words he heard, leading to occasional awkward pauses. This was the one and only Fetterman-Oz debate.

Words like "struggle" and "awkward" were mentioned more than once in media coverage; Politico, for example, quotes Fetterman as saying in one answer, "I do support fracking and I don’t, I don’t—I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking." Even so, independent experts consulted by the AP said Fetterman appears to be recovering remarkably well. Stroke rehabilitation specialist Dr. Sonia Sheth, who watched the debate, called Fetterman an inspiration to stroke survivors. “In my opinion, he did very well,” said Sheth, of Northwestern Medicine Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in suburban Chicago. “He had his stroke less than one year ago and will continue to recover over the next year." Problems with auditory processing do not mean someone also has cognitive problems, the experts agreed. (For more on the issues that were debated, see takeaways at CNN and NBC.)

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