The first and only debate between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz quickly devolved into a series of personal and stinging attacks in what has become the nation’s highest-stakes Senate race.
Throughout the night, Fetterman’s delivery sometimes stopped and repeated, and the Democrat, who suffered a stroke in May, slurred his words and occasionally lost his thoughts in response. Much of the discussion focused on Fetterman’s ongoing recovery and how his struggles with hearing processing and speech could affect the debate against someone who rose to national prominence and hosted a syndicated television show.
But the debate also highlighted deep political differences between the candidates, as the two candidates clash over energy policy, abortion and the economy.
Oz clearly waded into the debate hoping Fetterman would be too extreme to represent Pennsylvania, using the term “extreme” numerous times to describe several Democratic positions. And Fetterman, in a quick rebuttal to many of the critics, used the phrase “Oz’s rule” to describe his opponent’s relationship to the truth.
Here are six takeaways from Tuesday night’s debate:
Fetterman struggled to elaborate on his stance on fracking, as he once said he has never supported the industry and “never” will.
Oz was prepared for the issue and slammed Fetterman when asked about it.
“He supports Biden’s desire to ban fracking on public lands that are our lands, all our lands together,” Oz said. “This is an extreme position in terms of energy. If we freed up our energy here in Pennsylvania, it would help everyone.
When Oz brought up Fetterman’s comments about the demolition, Fetterman backed off.
“I fully support fracking,” Fetterman said. “I think we need independence and energy, and I believe I’ve walked that line my whole career.”
He added: “I always support fracking and I always believe that independence with our energy is very important.”
But that’s not true—Fetterman has long been averse to injecting water into shale formations to unlock oil and natural gas deposits that were previously uneconomical.
“I absolutely do not support fracking and never have,” in 2018. Fetterman told a left-wing YouTube channel while running for lieutenant governor. “And I signed a monetary pledge to go fossil fuel free. I have never received a dime from a natural gas or oil company.
When the moderators noticed the stance, Fetterman seemed at a loss for words.
“I’m pro-fracking and I’m not, I’m not, I’m pro-fracking and I’m standing and I’m pro-fracking,” Fetterman said.
For weeks, Oz has refused to give a firm answer about how he would vote on a bill by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
And this discussion was no different.
“The federal government shouldn’t be interfering with how states make abortion decisions,” Oz said when asked about abortion, before turning to Fetterman and calling him “radical” and “extreme.”
But when directly asked how he would vote on Graham’s bill, Oz refused to answer, saying he gave a bigger answer, saying he “will not support federal regulations that block states from doing what they want to do. ”
The lack of response allowed Fetterman to open up.
“I want to look at the face of every woman in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said. “You know, if you believe that your choice of reproductive freedom belongs to Dr. Oz, then you have a choice. But if you feel that the abortion choice is up to you and your doctor, I’m all for it. Roe v Wade should be the law to me.
However, Fetterman took the position in the primary.
Asked by CNN if he supported “no restrictions on abortion,” Fetterman said he did not. He took a similar position during the primary debate.
Oz again used the moment to call out Fetterman, saying it was “important” for Fetterman to “at least acknowledge” that he took a different position on abortion.
But it was Oz’s comment that Democrats, including Fetterman’s campaign, seized on after the debate.
Oz said he believes the abortion debate should be left to “women, doctors, local political leaders,” continuing his argument that states, not the federal government, should handle the issue.
Top Democrats see the comment as the start of linking Oz to Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a state senator who is running for office in 2019. introduced a bill that would require doctors to determine if a fetus has a heartbeat before an abortion and ban the procedure if it does. is detected.
Their argument: Oz believes that politicians like Mastriano — as a state senator or perhaps as governor — should address the issue.
Fetterman’s campaign announced after the debate that it would pay for an ad highlighting Oz’s comment.
The Fetterman campaign went to great lengths to avoid debate — until criticism from editorial boards, the Oz campaign and others became too overwhelming to resist.
Watching the debate in Harrisburg, while Fetterman’s speech has shown signs of significant improvement each week since his stroke in May, it remains an open question whether it was a smart decision to put him on stage with Oz. For the most part, it was hard to watch.
Most, if not all, Democrats will almost certainly give him the benefit of the doubt, but it’s an open question whether voters will.
Fetterman struggled to make a coherent case against Oz and keep up with the speed of the hour-long debate. Oz, for his part, has rarely spoken about his rival’s recovery from a stroke in May. Of course he didn’t have to.
If any Pennsylvania voters missed the debate, don’t worry.
There are sure to be millions of dollars worth of new ads recreating a series of embarrassing moments from the top Republican super PAC, which doubled down on the race earlier Tuesday.
Is the debate important? In less than two weeks, Pennsylvania voters will help answer that question. However, it will definitely feed into the rest of the campaign.
At a time when politicians are careful about how they embrace President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, Tuesday night showed no such caution.
Asked if he would support Trump in 2024, Oz, who won Trump’s endorsement in the disputed Commonwealth Republican primary, said: “I’ll support whatever the Republican party puts forward.”
“I would support Donald Trump if he decided to run for president, but it’s more than one candidate,” Oz said.
For his part, Fetterman hasn’t run away from Biden, who has turned Pennsylvania into a 2020 swing. moved to the Democratic Party, one of the few states he visited more than once in 2022. mid term.
“If he decides to run, I would fully support him, but at the end of the day it’s just his choice,” Fetterman said. “At the end of the day, I believe Joe Biden is a good family man and I believe he stands for the union lifestyle.”
It was clear that Oz was more comfortable on the debate stage than Fetterman, something Fetterman’s aides expected and tried to emphasize in advance in a pre-debate memo: “Dr. Oz has been a professional television personality for the past two decades.
But the differences were obvious from the start.
Fetterman appeared excited on stage, a stark contrast to Oz, who was calm, often smiling and looking comfortable.
Fetterman tried to deflect Oz’s near-constant barbs, occasionally interrupting the candidate to respond — most notably during his closing remarks.
“You want to cut Social Security,” Fetterman interjected, telling Oz about meeting with seniors worried about Social Security checks.
Oz continued to speak as moderator WPXI anchor Lisa Sylvester spoke, “Mr. Fetterman, it’s his turn to finish.
Oz avoided attacking Fetterman’s recovery from a stroke, which did not sit well with his campaign, which has sometimes used a mocking tone to attack the Democrat. However, Oz pointed out that his opponent only agreed to take the debate stage once.
“This is the only debate I could get you to come talk to me about and I had to beg on my knees to let you in,” Oz said.
Fetterman again declined to release any further medical information other than two letters released by his primary doctors. Fetterman’s doctor recently wrote that the Democrat has “no work restrictions and is able to hold full positions in public office.”
Fetterman said he’s deferred to his “real doctors” on whether to release more medical information, subtly probed Oz, and emphasized that his presence on stage and activity on the campaign trail are proof enough that he’s right for the job.
“Transparency is performance. Today I will discuss here. I have speeches in front of 3,000 people in Montgomery County, all over Pennsylvania, big crowds,” Fetterman said. “You know, I believe if my doctor thinks I’m fit to serve, and I think I’m fit.”
When pressed by moderator WHTM abc27 news anchor Dennis Owens, Fetterman said, “My doctor thinks I’m fit to serve.”
This story has been updated with more discussion.