It’s fight night in the Keystone State.
Pennsylvania Senate candidates John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz will debate for the first and only time on Tuesday evening as the heated midterm race, one of the most important and closely watched in the nation, becomes increasingly tight.
The two nominees will take to the stage for one hour in a televised debate that Nexstar stations across the commonwealth will broadcast live at 8:00 pm local time. Here’s what to expect.
In one corner is Fetterman, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and the former longtime mayor of Braddock, a small steel town east of Pittsburgh. In the other is Oz, a celebrity heart surgeon and former television host.
Days before the primary election earlier this year, Fetterman suffered a stroke that placed him in the hospital and removed him from the campaign trail for months. He has since stuttered, slurred, and lost his train of thought in multiple public appearances, leading to hesitance among many Pennsylvanians in recent weeks. Roughly 34% of voters are “extremely or very worried” that the nominee’s health would render him unable to complete his duties in the Senate.
Both campaigns have agreed to let Fetterman use closed captioning as he continues to deal with auditory processing issues, although he reportedly struggled through an interview with NBC News during which he utilized the technology. Captioners on Tuesday night will type everything said by moderators and Oz to be displayed on screens.
Oz hosted 13 seasons of his daytime syndicated talk show between 2009 and 2022 before nixing the program at the beginning of this year so that he could run for office as a Republican. Beyond his own production, Oz has frequently appeared as a medical expert on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime show.
Noting the Republican’s prowess on the airwaves, the Fetterman campaign acknowledged the disparity between the two nominees and established low expectations for the Democrat in an emailed statement on Monday.
“We are prepared for Oz’s allies and right-wing media to circulate malicious viral videos after the debate that try to paint John in a negative light because of awkward pauses, missing some words, and mushing other words together,” the message remarked. “John has had a remarkable recovery, but the ongoing auditory processing challenges are real. The campaign insisted on closed captioning technology because it’s necessary.”
Oz had pressed his rival after weeks of slow negotiations on the time and place for the debate, which will occur after some Pennsylvanians have already cast their ballots in early voting.
Beyond pressing Fetterman with respect to his uncertain health status, Oz will likely focus on the particularly leftist aspects of his opponent’s platform. Fetterman has faced criticism for his lengthy history of backing monitored injection sites and drug decriminalization, as well as his support of pro-abortion federal legislative proposals such as the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would supersede state-level abortion regulations.
An increased enthusiasm for school choice, which has led Pennsylvania Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro to make a surprise endorsement of lifeline scholarship legislation in the final weeks of his campaign, will likely drive turnout among parents concerned about falling educational outcomes and Left-wing ideologies in classrooms.
Across the nation, multiple polls indicate Republicans have double-digit advantages over Democrats on issues such as crime, economic policy, and inflation. The unpopularity of President Joe Biden, who only one-third of Democrats want to run for a second term, will likely provoke Oz to compare the Fetterman platform to the agenda advanced by the commander-in-chief.
Fetterman has criticized Oz over his longtime residence in New Jersey. Roughly 39% of voters say that the matter “makes them less likely” to cast a ballot for the cardiothoracic surgeon.
On the issue of abortion, Democrats pose an advantage over Republicans after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a development that marks among the strongest conservative political victories in a generation. Democrats nationwide have poured a significant portion of their war chests into advertisements highlighting Republicans’ comments on the sanctity of life.
Oz has produced hesitance among social conservatives for his uncertain stance on abortion. He has endorsed rape and incest exceptions despite his vow to work as “a proud champion for the pro-life movement” and stand up for the “most vulnerable.” More recently, Oz endorsed a piece of legislation that would codify same-sex marriage into federal law, although most Republicans in Congress had voted against the proposal.
Although Fetterman maintained a sizable lead over Oz in many polls, more recent surveys have shown Oz within the margin of error or significantly surpassing his rival. One poll from market research firm Wick shows Oz with a 4.5-point lead over Fetterman, while another survey from Trafalgar Group and The Daily Wire shows Oz within 3 points of the Democrat.
“The thought that your senator cannot hear spoken information and process it and make an argument is actually of great concern to people,” Trafalgar Group founder and senior strategist Robert Calahy told The Daily Wire. “We’ve always thought this race was a two or three-point race, and everybody else has finally come to join us on that conclusion.”
As undecided voters make their final determinations two weeks before Election Day, the debate between Oz and Fetterman could change minds and determine which party controls the Senate.