Fetterman, Oz offer contrast of styles in first and only Senate debate

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

In their first and only debate of Pennsylvania's increasingly close U.S. Senate contest, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and TV personality Mehmet Oz showed a sharp contrast in styles.

Polls have shown Fetterman, a Democrat who grew up in Springettsbury Township, holding a narrow lead. While Fetterman proved a meme-worthy candidate over the summer, with pointed criticism of Republican Oz's Pennsylvania ties, Oz highlighted his opponent's recovery from a stroke last May and spoke out on larger economic uncertainty.

"I'm a surgeon, I'm not a politician. We take big problems, we focus on them and we fix them and we do it by uniting, by coming together, not dividing," Oz said in his closing statement. "And by doing that, we can get ahead."

Fetterman, who acknowledged the "elephant in the room" — his stroke — in his opening statement, said he would fight for Pennsylvania's working class.

"My campaign is for fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania that got knocked down and get back up again," Fetterman said. "I'm also fighting for every forgotten community all across Pennsylvania that ever got knocked down."

Oz focused on the economy and trying to provide a contrast to Fetterman. Multiple times, he said Pennsylvania needed to "unleash" the state's natural gas resources, which would provide jobs and a boost to the economy.

"He raised taxes as mayor, he tried to raise taxes as lieutenant governor," Oz said. "These are radical positions, they're extreme, they're out of touch with the values of Pennsylvanians."

Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor historically has had little power over the state budget — nor did Fetterman as Braddock's mayor because of that municipality's council-led system of governance. Much of Fetterman's work in Harrisburg centered around legalizing marijuana and reforming the criminal justice system. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, has pursued a plan that would to hand out $3.6 billion in tax incentives to business interests, including the state's shale gas drillers and refiners.

Fetterman sought to attack Oz for his wealth and his history of highlighting miracle cures and magic beans on his daytime TV show.

"If he's on TV, he's lying," Fetterman said of his opponent.

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The debate could be best described as contentious. Candidates were allowed 15-second follow-ups at certain points if one directly attacked the other, which were frequently utilized.

Both candidates declined to provide specifics on a wide swath of potentially controversial subjects.

When asked about the gun control bill passed in Congress earlier this year, Oz said there were parts that he liked but did not provide a specific answer on whether or not he would've voted to support the bill.

In response to a question on abortion, Oz said he would vote against a federal law governing abortions and that decisions on abortion should be between a doctor, patient and local political leaders.

"There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions," he said.

Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz  shake hands prior to the Nexstar Pennsylvania Senate at WHTM abc27 in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, October 25, 2022.

When asked multiple times if he would support Sen. Lindsey Graham's bill that would ban abortion at the federal level, Oz reiterated that response but did not specifically say he would vote against that bill.

Both candidates were asked about their changing positions on fracking.

In 2018, Fetterman said he would "never" support fracking. During the debate, he said multiple times that he had "always" supported fracking. Oz, when asked about a 2014 column where he said fracking shouldn't be permitted until its impact on health was studied, said he believes it is safe.

"It is a lifeline for this commonwealth," Oz said.

Democratic Pennsylvania candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman participates in the Nexstar Pennsylvania Senate at WHTM abc27 in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, October 25, 2022.

When asked about student loan forgiveness, Fetterman said he would support it. When then asked about what he would do to lower costs for those attending higher education, he declined to provide specifics. Oz said he would push universities to offer more online classes but didn't provide specifics.

Fetterman, when asked about his health, said he'd already released a letter from his primary care physician stating that he'd be able to "serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem."

Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz participates in the Nexstar Pennsylvania Senate at WHTM abc27 in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, October 25, 2022.

The debate incorporated closed captioning on screens in the debate room, a common aid for those suffering from auditory processing disorder, as Fetterman is following his stroke. Reporters, however, were kept at a distance from the actual debate stage — and thus it wasn't clear how the system worked during the debate.

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The candidates did agree on a couple of topics. Both said they would not support expanding the Supreme Court, though Oz then attacked Fetterman for his support of ending the filibuster.

Fetterman, when asked about the country's biggest foreign policy concern, said it was China. That's something Oz has said in the past, including at an event at the Rotary Club of York last week.

The election is Nov. 8.

 — Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.