Tuesday night’s much-anticipated Pennsylvania Senate debate was a fast-paced event focused on policy issues that was interspersed — sometimes punctuated by attacks from candidates that have established who controls Congress’s equally divided upper chamber. key race.
The standoff also leaves Democrats lieutenant. Gov. John Fettman’s stroke symptoms are back in the spotlight, and he’s talking about his resilience and ability to recover, which, as he said, is a noteworthy but not a disqualifying challenge.
When Feltman took office, many eyes were on his health. He spoke intermittently and at times inconsistently throughout the debate, even more so than he did on the campaign trail after returning to the field in August three months after a stroke. Sometimes he seems to have a hard time completing his answers.
Two monitors hang above the host’s head to transcribe questions and answers from Republican Mehmet Oz in real time to help address Fetterman’s auditory processing problems, which outside neuroscientists say do not indicate cognition in stroke survivors question.
Feltman has worked with speech therapists; his doctor said last week that he was ready to be “full work” in the office, although he declined to release his medical records.
A few times on Tuesday, but not often, Feltman had a pause before answering questions while reading the transcript.
Shortly after the debate began, he cited his stroke and the sometimes derisive criticism his rival’s campaign faced as a result.
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“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: I had a stroke. He never let me forget that,” Feltman said in his opening remarks, repeating a line within an hour. “It knocked me down, but I’ll keep getting up.”
Oz, a former surgeon and popular TV host, described himself as “the living embodiment of the American dream” and made no mention of his opponent’s health on stage.
Both candidates were forced to answer inconsistent views on policy: For example, each received past comments about fracking that contradicted what they said on the tracking issue.
“I strongly support fracking,” Oz said when asked about his comments in 2014 against the industry, which employs thousands of Pennsylvanians but has scrutinized its environmental impact.
The host also asked Feltman to draw parallels between his recent public support for fracking with his harshly critical comments in 2018.
“I’ve always supported fracking,” he insisted.
Feltman embarrassed about the difference: “I do support fracking…I do support fracking.”
He and Oz also tried to capitalize on that when asked about their candidacy.
“I want to see the face of every woman in Pennsylvania,” Feltman said as the debate turned to abortion.
“If you think the choice of reproductive freedom belongs to Dr. Oz, then you have a choice,” Feltman said, contrasting his views with his opponents, who oppose abortion unless it’s rape, incest or the mother’s health, and has said he wants it restricted but not criminalised.
“To me, Roe v. Wade should be the law,” Feltman added, referring to the state’s guarantee of abortion rights that was overturned by the Supreme Court this summer.
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Feltman, however, sidestepped questions about whether he would support any restrictions on abortion, including in the third trimester.
The host kept following up on whether Oz would support the South Carolina senator. Lindsey Graham has proposed a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with few exceptions.
As he did to reporters, Oz refused to answer “yes” or “no,” saying instead that he opposed federal control of the issue and wanted to leave it to the states — by women, their doctors and local politicians to deal with it, he said.
“I would vote against any bill that violates what I’m talking about, which is federal interference with state regulations on abortion,” Oz eventually admitted.
Meanwhile, on the crime front — an issue Oz exploited in closing his polling gap — Oz boasted that he had the support of multiple police unions in the state, while Feltman defended himself against light crime charge. He claimed Oz, who he said had a lax record in granting parole to criminals, had “no experience” in public safety.
As mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, he has been successful in curbing gun violence and has a proven track record of tackling such problems, Feltman said.
“We should be talking about crime and inflation — those issues are hurting Pennsylvanians,” said Oz, who has repeatedly touted a plan to “free up” the state’s energy industry, as he envisions it, by raising wages, supporting and Help reduce high prices.
Oz gave the example of a woman who could no longer afford her groceries amid rising living costs — a frustrating problem, he said.
He said Feltman was a “radical” who would not be budget conscious and would raise taxes. On the other hand, he would promote “balance” in Washington.
“I’m a surgeon, not a politician. We deal with big problems, we focus on them and fix them,” Oz said later in the debate. We do this by uniting, uniting — not dividing — and by doing so, we can succeed. “
Feltman said Oz — who has often tried to portray him as a liar — would not vote in Congress for the Democrats’ Reducing Inflation Act, which would allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of some prescription drugs, citing Oz. Its wealth and relative lack of roots are in Pennsylvania. He has repeatedly claimed that Oz wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare, an accusation Oz said was baseless. Oz said one of Feltman’s ads was taken down for being “dishonest.”
“He has 10 huge mansions,” Feltman said. “We have to resist corporate greed. We also have to make sure we also resist price gouging.”
When asked to explain his plan to crack down on price-gouging companies, Feltman didn’t answer, talking more broadly about “how inflation is hurting Americans” and Oz “never able to stand up for working families across America.”
Elsewhere, Feltman said he supports laws raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current wage. Oz said he wants the minimum wage to be higher than that, but driven by market forces, not laws, through his plan for the state’s energy companies.
The two candidates disagree on the value of federal student loan forgiveness — a point Feltman supports — and Oz thinks he has a clearer plan to lower college tuition, including offering online instruction.
Campaign reacts after debate
Tuesday was the only event Feltman agreed to after Oz’s pleas and criticism — “It’s the only debate I can get you to come and talk to me,” Oz said on stage — before that, Feltman’s campaign has sought to lower expectations for his performance, with two senior aides telling reporters in a memo on Monday that the debate was “not John’s format,” citing Oz’s years on television.
In the minutes after the standoff ended on Tuesday night, his campaign mobilized — in their words — to show his performance.
“We’re excited about John’s performance,” spokesman Joe Calvillo told reporters.
The campaign announced late Tuesday that it planned to run an ad targeting Oz for one of his answers about abortion, in which he said policy should be left to states democratically, but more specifically involving “a woman, A doctor and local political leader”.
Meanwhile, the Oz camp declared victory.
“We saw a debate tonight, and it was a complete disaster for John Feltman,” adviser Barney Keller told reporters. “His inability to defend any of his radical positions really shows that.”
Both candidates will be back in the running for seats on Wednesday, with Election Day in less than two weeks and early voting underway.
Heading into Tuesday, the polls had shrunk considerably, with FiveThirtyEight’s average now showing Feltman leading by less than 3 points, down from nearly 11 points six weeks ago.
Will McDuffie is one of seven ABC News campaign reporters stationed in battleground states across the country. Watch as we cover all the twists and turns of the midterms with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Hulu’s “Power Trip: Power Seekers and Power Chasers” every Sunday.