HARRISBURG, PA – Other than the actual election on November 8, the climax of one of the most critical and closely watched political races this year was Tuesday night’s long-expected debate between Democrat John Fetterman and celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Turkish-American, who are running for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat.
The race is also important for the Hellenic-American community that is anxious about what damage the first Turkish-born Senator could do regarding U.S. relations with Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.
CNN reported prior to the debate that “Democratic state Lt. Gov. John Fetterman,” who did his best to avoid a debate, “stands at 51% support to Republican candidate Mehmet Oz’s 45% support among likely voters, an advantage narrowly outside of the survey’s margin of error.”
The phrase “narrowly outside of the survey’s margin of error” is not a cause for optimism among Democrats and Hellenes, and neither was the debate.
The Associated Press reported that, “more than five months after experiencing a stroke, Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman struggled at times to explain his positions and often spoke haltingly throughout a highly anticipated debate.”
The Democrats have been carefully trying to manage expectations for the contest and perceptions of the condition of their candidate, a task taken up their standard bearer himself. As AP noted, “in the opening minutes of the debate, Fetterman addressed what he called the ‘elephant in the room.’” After acknowledging, “I had a stroke,” Fetterman said of Oz – who has consistently questioned his ability to serve in the Senate – “he’s never let me forget that,” adding prophylactically, “and I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together, but it knocked me down and I’m going to keep coming back up.”
However, “when pressed to release his medical records later in the debate, he refused to commit,” AP noted.
On Tuesday night, however, Oz “ignored his opponent’s health challenges throughout the debate, instead seizing on Fetterman’s policies on immigration and crime and his support for President Joe Biden. At one point, Oz said Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, was ‘trying to get as many murderers out of jail as possible… His extreme positions have made him untenable,” according to AP.
In addition to the traditional trappings of an American political debate, there were unfamiliar elements whose appropriateness and impact on voter’s views is…up for debate. AP noted, “Fetterman used closed-captioning posted above the moderator to help him process the words he heard, leading to occasional awkward pauses.”
The election with high political stakes is two weeks away but more than 600,000 ballots have already been cast. The winner succeeds retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, so the contest is the Democrats’ best chance to gain a Senate seat. According to AP, is could also “determine party control of the chamber and the future of Biden’s agenda.”
The other wildcard is that voters “may only see clips of the event on social media. And both parties are preparing to flood the airwaves with television advertising in the final stretch,” said AP. The ‘spin doctors’ are already weighing on the political and medical significance of what was seen on Tuesday. Stroke rehabilitation specialist Dr. Sonia Sheth told AP that she watched the debate, and that Fetterman is an inspiration to stroke survivors. “In my opinion, he did very well… He had his stroke less than one year ago and will continue to recover over the next year. He had some errors in his responses, but overall he was able to formulate fluent, thoughtful answers.”
Oz focused on the image he himself wants to project – essentially that of a moderate Republican – not that of his opponent.
“I’m a surgeon, I’m not a politician. We take big problems, we focus on them, and we fix them. We do it by uniting, by coming together, not dividing.”
Nevertheless, the race reminds of the divisions in both Pennsylvania and throughout the United States as Fetterman is committed to supporting Biden should he run again and Oz backs Donald Trump.
Among the issues that were addressed during the debate were those of interest nationwide like abortion and inflation, as well as fracking – which is important in Pennsylvania. AP reported about Fetterman, however, that “when pressed to explain his shifting position on fracking, a critical issue in a state where thousands of jobs are tied to natural gas production, his answer was particularly awkward.” He declared, “I do support fracking. And I don’t, I don’t. I support fracking, and I stand and I do support fracking.”
While Oz himself and GOP officials in general stayed away from the health issue, AP said Donald Trump Jr. was less cautious in his tweet: “If Fetterman is some sort of leftist decoy to make Biden actually sound somewhat intelligent and articulate he’s doing a great job.”
(Material from the Associate Press was used in this article.)