Things got heated Tuesday as Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz went head-to-head and sparred over issues like crime, the economy, abortion, and fracking in the Pennsylvania Senate debate, the only one that will occur between the two candidates before election day November 8.
The Pennsylvania Senate debate, which was held in Harrisburg and utilized closed-captioning services at the request of Fetterman, went on for a mere hour as the two traded barbs on issues they felt were most compelling to voters and attempted to explain why they were the better choice in the race. But Fetterman’s stumbles in the televised debate overshadowed much of the content of the evening.
“Good night, everybody,” Fetterman said when asked what “qualifies” him to serve as the state’s next senator during the debate opening. “I’m running to serve Pennsylvania. He’s running to use Pennsylvania. Here’s a man that spent $20 million of his own money to try to buy that seat. I’m also having to talk about something called the Oz rule — that if he’s on TV, he’s lying. He did that on his career in his TV show, he’s done that during his campaign about lying about our record here and he’s also, probably, lying here during this debate.”
“I had a stroke, he’s never let me forget that,” Fetterman added. “I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together. It knocked me down, but I’m gonna keep coming back up.”
Asked the same question, Oz said: “I’m running for the U.S. Senate because Washington keeps getting it wrong with extreme positions.”
“I want to bring civility, balance, all the things you want to see because you’ve been telling it to me on the campaign trail,” he added. “By doing that, we can bring us together in a way that has not been done of late.… John Fetterman takes everything to an extreme and those extreme positions hurt us all. Let’s take crime, for example, because it’s been such a big problem.… John Fetterman, during this crime wave, has been trying to get as many murderers — convicted and sentenced to life in prison — out of jail as possible.”
On the economy, Oz asserted that he has the ability to “make difficult decisions” to address the financial problems Americans face. In an effort to reduce economic woes that have crippled the nation’s economy, Oz said he would work to cut the nation’s budget to “make sure we don’t have to raise taxes on a population already desperately in pain from the high inflation rate.”
Oz also pointed fingers at Fetterman, claiming he did not pay his taxes and insisted that his only response to the current economic crisis is to raise taxes.
“John Fetterman’s response, continually, is to raise taxes,” Oz said. “He raised taxes as mayor, he tried to raise taxes as lieutenant governor 46%, that’s a big tax rate, he supported Joe Biden’s recent tax rate increase, and he’s done that without paying his own taxes 67 times. I’ll say that again, he hasn’t paid his own taxes 67 times, but he’s raising mine and yours.”
Responding to Oz’s claim about his failure to pay his own taxes, Fetterman said: “Absolutely, the Oz rule, of course he’s lying. It was helping two students, 17 years ago, to help them, you know, to buy their own homes. They didn’t pay the bills and it got her paid [sic] and it’s never been an issue in any other campaign before. It was all about nonprofit.”
Fetterman also refused to say whether he believed the Biden administration had “overspent” as the moderator asked and said, “No, here’s what I think. We have to fight about inflation here, right now. That’s what we need to fight about, inflation, you know, right now, because it’s a tax on working families. Doctor Oz can’t possibly understand what that is like. He has 10 gigantic mansions, you know? We must push back against corporate greed. We must also make sure that we are pushing back against price-gouging, as well, too, you know? We also need to be able to make more in Pennsylvania and make more in America.”
The two candidates also provided their thoughts on raising the minimum wage, with Fetterman saying he “absolutely” supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and insisted that the $7.25 hour minimum wage rate is a “disgrace.”
“John Fetterman thinks the minimum wage is the weekly allowance from his parents,” Oz said. The Republican also said he believes “market forces have already driven up the minimum wage.”
Oz also took aim at Fetterman’s ads and attacked him over the issue of abortion, calling them “dishonest” and decrying the Democrat’s stance on abortion as “radical” and “extreme.”
The GOP candidate reiterated several times his opposition to the federal government dictating states’ regulations on abortion in response to a question on exceptions including rape, incest, or the mother’s life being in danger.
Oz was also asked if he would support Senator Lindsey Graham’s, R-S.C., bill in the Senate that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The Republican candidate responded that any “bill that violates what I said” about the federal government’s involvement in abortion at the state level he “would vote against.”
Fetterman, meanwhile, would not say when he believes the limits should be, instead reiterating that he would support codifying Roe v. Wade.
Debate moderators also pressed Fetterman about prior statements he made in opposition to fracking, a process he now says he has “always supported” as he stumbled to get his point across during the debate.
“I’ve always supported fracking and I always believe that independence with our energy is critical, and we can’t be held, you know, ransom to somebody like Russia,” Fetterman said. “I’ve always believed that energy independence is critical and I’ve always believed that — and I do support fracking, never taken any money from their industry, but I support how critical it is that we produce our energy and create energy independence.”
Pressed on the issue and how to “square” his previous comments against fracking with his current position, Fetterman said, “I do support fracking, and I don’t, I don’t — I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking.”
Oz was also asked about his support for former President Donald Trump and said he would “support whoever the Republican Party puts up.”
Pressed on whether he would support Trump specifically, Oz said, “I would support Donald Trump if he decided to run for president.”
Fetterman also dismissed concern over whether he is fit to serve in the Senate and would not commit to a release of his medical records during the debate.
Asked whether he would release his medical records “in the interest of transparency,” Fetterman, who suffered a stroke earlier this year, said, “To me, for transparency, it’s about showing up. I’m here today to have a debate.”
“I have speeches in front of 3,000 people in Montgomery, you know, all across Pennsylvania, big, big crowds,” he added. “I believe if my doctor believes that I’m fit to serve, and that’s what I believe is appropriate.”
“With two weeks before the election, you know, I have run a campaign and I have been transparent about being very open, about the fact where I use captioning and I believe that, again, my doctors, the real doctors that I believe, they all believe that I’m ready to be serve [sic],” he added.
Commentators reacting to the debate said Fetterman’s difficulty in answering questions was hard to watch. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough tweeted during the debate that Fetterman’s “ability to communicate is seriously impaired. Pennsylvania voters will be talking about this obvious fact even if many in the media will not.”
In a statement following the debate, Fetterman campaign communications director Joe Calvello said, “We are thrilled with John’s performance.”
“He did remarkably well tonight – especially when you consider that he’s still recovering from a stroke and was working off of delayed captions filled with errors,” he added. “John won countless exchanges, counter-punched aggressively, and pushed back on Oz’s cruelty and attacks.”
Oz campaign manager Casey Contres also released a statement following the debate, concluding the “contrast between Dr. Oz and John Fetterman was clear during tonight’s debate.”
“Radical John Fetterman couldn’t defend why he has repeatedly pushed for extreme policies like decriminalizing heroin, banning fracking, and pardoning cold-blooded murderers,” Contres said. “Dr. Oz articulated how he would restore balance to Washington and find common-sense solutions to lower costs for families and make our streets safer.”
Fetterman and Oz will go head-to-head in the state’s November 8 election.
Fox News’ Houston Keene contributed to this article.