Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Senate, said Wednesday he would participate in one debate with Republican Mehmet Oz, who had made an issue of his opponent’s willingness to face him because Fetterman continues to recover from a serious stroke. The face-to-face meeting is scheduled for Oct. 25.
“We said from the start that we’d do a debate, which John reiterated very clearly again last week,” Rebecca Katz, senior adviser to the Fetterman campaign, said in a statement. “Enough distractions, it’s time to talk about the issues.”
But the campaigns are already sparring over terms of the debate, which would come two weeks before the general election, after Fetterman’s campaign asked for certain conditions to accommodate his continued recovery.
Oz has made Fetterman’s willingness to debate a central attack over the last several weeks, accusing the Democrat of either lying about the severity of his health or of being afraid to debate.
Fetterman suffered a near-fatal stroke days before the May primary, sidelining him from the campaign trail for most of the summer. He has eased back into some in-person activities, but has acknowledged that some of his communication processing is still shaky and has resisted any in-person media interviews.
Fetterman’s spokesman, Joe Calvello, said to “facilitate a seamless conversation,” Nexstar Television, which is hosting the debate in Harrisburg, has “agreed to provide live, real-time closed captioning that will appear on monitors visible to the candidates and throughout the duration of the debate.”
The Oz campaign responded later that the Republican would agree to the debate, but asked for specific conditions, including that the debate moderator explain that Fetterman is using closed captioning and to extend the debate from 60 minutes to 90 minutes to accommodate any delays.
“Doctor Oz looks forward to being in Harrisburg on October 25th to share his vision for a better Pennsylvania and America, and he is ready to expose Fetterman’s record as the most radical far-left senate candidate in America,” said Casey Contres, Oz’s campaign manager, in a statement. “Doctor Oz will continue to push for more and sooner debates. Pennsylvania voters should not have to wait until October 25th to hear from their candidates.”
Katz said the Oz campaign was trying to “move the goal posts” by requesting the debate be extended by 30 minutes.
“Oz agreed to a 60 minute Nexstar debate. Then we agreed to a 60 minute Nexstar debate. Now, suddenly 60 minutes isn’t good enough, and he’s demanding 90,” she said in a statement. “Let’s be real: If we agreed to 10 debates, Oz would be demanding 20. He’s going to keep trying to move the goal posts, because this is his only play.”
The Pennsylvania Senate race is considered one of the most high-stakes contests in the country: Democrats see it as their best chance at flipping a Republican seat and keeping control of the chamber and Republicans are desperate to hold it in their quest to win back the majority.
Fetterman’s campaign spent most of the summer trolling Oz on social media over his celebrity wealth and longtime residency in New Jersey, trying to paint him as out of touch with Pennsylvanians. More recently, Oz has hit back, attacking Fetterman over not having committed — until now — to a debate and his positions on crime-related issues.
Fetterman has held a lead in most public polls, but the race is expected to tighten as November nears. A new poll from Monmouth University released Wednesday found 47 percent of voters surveyed held favorable views of Fetterman compared to 36 percent who held positive views of Oz.
The poll also found that more voters would definitely or probably support Fetterman than Oz, 49 percent to 39 percent.