The first and only debate between U.S. Senate candidates Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Republican, and John Fetterman, a Democrat, on Tuesday night gave Pennsylvanian voters a chance to see the two men defend their views on abortion rights, fracking, and other issues.
Front and center of the debate, however, was Fetterman’s health as he suffered a stroke five months ago and the two campaigns have quarreled over its impact.
Fetterman’s health has been a major criticism by the Oz campaign, which claims he is not fit for office, while the Democrat contends he has recovered well enough to govern.
“The ability to process conversation in real time and respond is a lingering challenge, and that was absolutely a real issue tonight for Fetterman,” Politico reporter Natalie Allison tweeted.
Several other people praised Fetterman for being brave and for being willing to participate in the debate in the first place, given the stroke’s impact.
Political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas praised Fetterman’s “courage, humility and honesty” for agreeing to the debate.
“Fetterman’s aware he has auditory & processing issues as a result of stroke,” she wrote. “He could’ve refused to debate like some candidates have. Instead, he went out there and let voters see his challenges and healing process.”
Connie Schultz, a columnist for USA Today, also commended his courage.
“Time catches up with everyone, no exceptions. Few would have his courage to recover so publicly,” she wrote.
Al Weaver, a reporter for The Hill, similarly suggested Fetterman’s team should not have let him debate.
“Democrats are asking the same thing post-debate: Why did Fetterman’s team allow him to take the stage tonight? No one I’m talking to on the left has a good thing to say about what just took place,” he tweeted.
Conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey joined in: “Dr. Oz’s ability to keep a neutral expression while Fetterman continually fails to create a single coherent thought is extremely impressive.”
Outkick’s Clay Travis called Fetterman’s debate performance a “disgrace” and said he was “not well.”
“I can’t impress upon you how much of a disaster this debate is for [Fetterman]. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Travis added in another tweet. “This race is completely and totally over.”
Journalist Bari Weiss described Fetterman’s performance at the debate as “painful to watch” as the candidate struggled to articulate an immediate answer to some questions.
MSNBC columnist Liz Plank pushed back on criticism Fetterman was facing, saying negative comments about his health were “ableism.”
Regarding actual policy being debated, reactions were mixed as some people called out Fetterman for seemingly contradicting earlier positions on issues like fracking and a Medicare-for-All plan endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Fetterman repeatedly said he opposed fracking and even signed a pledge to BAN it. ROLL THE TAPE,” the Republican National Committee tweeted.
Dr. Oz also faced criticism, particularly over an answer he gave regarding whether abortion services should be legalized or outlawed.
“There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” Oz said. “As a physician, I’ve been in the room when there are some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all. I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive, to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”
The comment drew criticism from CNN political contributor Paul Begala who contended the single line lost Oz the whole debate.
Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also criticized the line.
“Remember when the debate was going to be the night [Oz] crushed [Fetterman] with his verbal mastery? Turns out inviting local political leaders into your doctors office with you is what he had up his sleeve…” she wrote.
Political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen pointed out that Fetterman almost immediately raised $1 million following the debate, suggesting Oz’s line could have encouraged undecided voters to back Fetterman.
At least one Independent Pennsylvania voter is going the other way after watching the debate.
“I was definitely leaning towards Fetterman, and I think I have totally changed to the Oz side,” the voter told NewsNation anchor Chris Cuomo.
Several national polls show Oz trailing Fetterman by about 2.3 points — or within the margin of error. The election is scheduled for Nov. 8, 2022.