Fetterman lowers expectations ahead of only debate with Oz in Pennsylvania Senate showdown

The Democratic Senate nominee in arguably the most crucial and high-profile Senate election this year is lowering expectations ahead of the one and only debate with his Republican counterpart.

Five months after suffering a stroke that could have taken his life, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on Tuesday will share the same stage with Mehmet Oz, the cardiac surgeon, celebrity doctor, and Republican nominee in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. 

The race in the key northeastern battleground state – where the latest public opinion polls indicate Oz has all but erased Fetterman’s one-time lead – is one of a handful across the country that will likely determine if the Republicans win back the Senate majority in the midterm elections.

The debate, held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, comes with just two weeks to go until Election Day and early voting underway, with more than a half million Keystone State voters already casting ballots. And it’s one of four debates across the county on Tuesday in key Senate and gubernatorial races.


Mehmet Oz, Republican Senate nominee, and Democratic candidate John Fetterman
(Hannah Beier/Bloomberg  |  Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

While Fetterman’s physically recovered from his stroke and weeks ago resumed a busy campaign schedule, he still stumbles over words and uses closed captioning to read interview questions, which experts say is common for people recovering from strokes. 

Fetterman’s campaign, in a memo on the eve of the debate, noted that as requested, closed captioning will be provided to Fetterman during the one-hour showdown.


“The captioning process may also lead to time delays and errors in the exchanges between the moderators and the candidates,” the Fetterman campaign cautioned. “In fact, because the captions are going to be typed out by human beings in real time, on live TV, some amount of human error in the transcription is inevitable, which may cause temporary miscommunications at times. It is impossible to control and unavoidable.”

Pointing to Fetterman’s past debate performances, his campaign argued that “this isn’t John’s format. Look no further than the debates from the primary earlier this year.”

And highlighting the GOP nominee’s many years as the star of daytime TV’s popular “Dr. Oz Show,” the Fetterman campaign argued that “this guy is a media-savvy performer who literally built his career (and his fortune) by playing to the cameras as a daytime TV host.”

Fetterman enjoyed a healthy polling and fundraising lead over Oz during the summer, as the Republican nominee struggled to consolidate his party’s support after narrowly winning a crowded and very combustible primary showdown in the spring after he was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. But over the past couple of months, Oz and his campaign have been relentless in attacking Fetterman for dodging debates.

“Tomorrow night will be the first and only debate in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race after John Fetterman dodged 7 debates in a desperate attempt to hide his radical policies from scrutiny by the media and Pennsylvanians,” the Oz campaign charged on Monday.

And the Oz campaign has lambasted Fetterman in recent weeks over his record as lieutenant governor and earlier as mayor of the Pittsburgh area borough of Braddock.

“At tonight’s debate, John Fetterman is going to tell lie after lie as he tries to cover up the radical policies he pushed for as the no-show mayor of Braddock and no-show lieutenant governor,” the Oz campaign claimed hours before the debate.

Veteran national Republican media consultant John Brabender expects the debate to break through all the noise in the closing weeks of the Pennsylvania Senate showdown.

“For almost a year now, people have been inundated first with the primary ads and then the general election ads in the Senate race from not only the candidates but countless independent expenditure groups. And at this point they’ve been beaten into submission as far as new information. However, the debate will be seen as more authentic and believable than the ads,” he emphasized.


Brabender, whose offices are headquartered in Pennsylvania, forecast that “there’s a better chance that somebody will make a mistake that will cost them the election rather than somebody who will have such a stellar performance that they’ll win the election.”

The debate in Pennsylvania is the most high-profile of a handful of debates on Tuesday in key races across the country.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon debate on Oct. 13, 2022, at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon debate on Oct. 13, 2022, at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapid, Michigan.
(Bryan Esler/Nexstar Media Group/WOOD-TV via AP)

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and GOP challenger Tudor Dixon face off for the second and final time in a one-hour debate.

Dixon, a businesswoman and conservative commentator who won the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary thanks in part to an endorsement and support from Trump, is banking on a late surge of support to try and oust Whitmer, a former state lawmaker who enjoys a large fundraising advantage over her GOP challenger.


Whitmer has blasted Dixon for months over abortion, and during their first debate the candidates traded fire over that issue, as well as education, school safety, gun measures, and Whitmer’s record on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic

The latest public opinion polls in the midwestern battleground state indicate that Whitmer’s lead is shrinking. 

It’s a similar story in New York, where conservative GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin has narrowed the gap with Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul. Zeldin hopes to become the first Republican to win a gubernatorial election in blue-state New York in 20 years.

Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.
(Getty Images)

Zeldin is expected to hammer Hochul over his top campaign issue – rising crime and New York’s bail reform laws – when they face off Tuesday in their one and likely only debate. Hochul, formerly the state’s lieutenant governor, was sworn in as New York’s first female governor after three-term Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace amid multiple scandals last year.


In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is facing a GOP challenge from Republican construction company owner and first-time candidate Joe O’Dea. The two candidates will meet on the same stage for the second of three debates on Tuesday. 

O’Dea, who’s a moderate Republican on the key issue of abortion and who’s spotlighted his differences with Trump, trails Bennet by the mid-to-upper single digits in a one-time purple state that’s trended toward the Democrats over the past decade and a half.

Fox News’ Bryan Llenas contributed to this report