Pennsylvania Senate Democratic hopeful John Fetterman and Republican rival Dr. Mehmet Oz came out of the gate on Tuesday night in their only debate, just two weeks before Election Day.
Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, said in his opening remarks that when Oz “is on TV, he lies,” calling it “the Oz rule.”
Oz hit back, calling Fetterman “extreme” and accusing him of being a criminal.
The Democrat, who is recovering from a stroke he suffered in May, appeared to struggle with his language throughout the debate. Acknowledging his difficult recovery at the beginning and end of the event, he said his campaign is about “fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania who’s ever been knocked down and had to get back up.”
The race for the spot, vacated by retired GOP Senator Pat Toomey, is widely regarded as one of the most important of the Midterms cycle.
Democrats see competition in the key swing state, where President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in 2020, as one of their best chances to flip a Republican-held seat and cling to their razor-thin Senate majority. Republicans view Toomey’s seat as an essential part of their plan to regain control of the upper house of Congress.
In their hour-long debate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, candidates raised questions about abortion rights, raising the minimum wage, gun reform and fracking in Keystone State.
Fetterman reiterated his support for the framework proposed by Roe v. Wade, the longstanding precedent for abortion that was struck down by the Supreme Court this summer.
Oz said he wanted abortion decisions to be made by “women, doctors, [and] local political leaders,” adding that states should decide the matter themselves.
Fetterman said he has “always” supported fracking and struggled to explain an apparent contradiction when a moderator noted that he had previously said he had “never” supported fracking.
They were also grilled on their records and previous positions. Oz defended questions about whether he promoted potentially unsafe or unproven treatments on his show, saying he provided “quality information that empowered people.” Fetterman said his community “everyone understood what happened” in response to a question about a 2013 incident when he, as Braddock mayor, pointed a shotgun at a black jogger.
Each candidate accused the other of lying and took no punches as he attacked his opponent’s private life. Fetterman repeatedly proposed to Oz for owning numerous properties outside of Pennsylvania, while Oz accused Fetterman of not paying taxes.
The debate came as Oz, the Trump-backed celebrity doctor, closed his electoral deficit with Fetterman in the final weeks of the race.
According to the averages of the most recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight, the two candidates now appear to be in a virtual dead heat.
Oz’s gains came as Fetterman recovered from a debilitating stroke in May that took him three months out of campaigning.
The Oz campaign, backed by tens of millions of dollars from Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s PAC, has bombarded Fetterman with ads accusing him of being delinquent and too far left for Pennsylvania. Earlier Tuesday, two other GOP groups affiliated with that PAC poured an additional $6.2 million into ads running through Election Day in Pennsylvania.
Fetterman’s campaign has branded Oz, a wealthy television star, as an aloof New Jersey carpet digger who made his fortune by presenting sometimes dubious health information to his audience.
Oz’s campaign has also launched attacks on Fetterman’s health and openly questioned his physical fitness for office. Fetterman’s GP wrote last week that the candidate “has no work restrictions and is able to work full-time in public office,” while noting that he had persistent auditory processing problems.
Fetterman has used a closed captioning system in recent interviews to read live transcripts of questions as they are asked. His campaign warned Monday that using subtitles during the debate could lead to awkward pauses and some transcription errors.