That’s why what the Democrat did on Wednesday night was very smart.
“We are absolutely going to debate Dr. Oz, and it was really always our intention to do so,” Fetterman told Politico.
“It was just about solving some of the lingering issues with stroke, auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to fix that.”
While details are still being finalized, Fetterman said he envisions a “mid to late October” debate with Oz, his Republican challenger in the race for the seat currently held by incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.
Here’s why Fetterman’s decision to debate — and not delay announcing that decision — makes political sense to him.
1) The problem did not go away. Fetterman was absent from the campaign trail for about three months – from mid-May when he suffered a stroke until August, when he began campaigning in public again. That’s a big deal for someone who wants to be a senator – and naturally raises questions about whether he’s up to the job he’s running for. It might be a tricky conversation to have, but you can be sure a lot of Pennsylvania voters have their doubts about Fetterman’s post-stroke health. Sometime between now and November, he has to prove he’s up to the rigors of a campaign and that he’s in charge. So it’s best to confront these issues head-on – and when and where you choose.
2) He was on the defensive
. Fetterman, though he hasn’t been campaigning for several months, has done an outstanding job of keeping Oz off balance – using (mostly) social media to drive the daily conversation in the race. Whether it’s having Snooki (of “Jersey Shore” fame/infamy) oz troll
about his residency or capitalize on Oz’s outrage over the cost of a raw vegetables platter
, Fetterman proved that you don’t have to be physically out in the field to be offensive in a race. But lately, he’d lost that momentum — largely thanks to questions about his health raised by his reluctance to debate. Oz, who had struggled to find a problem with any real significance to get Fetterman moving, finally found one. For Fetterman, it’s best to nip this in the bud before Oz gets any more momentum.
3) He can now paint himself as a sympathetic figure. Fetterman would do well to paint his ongoing struggles to recover from his stroke in the larger context of Pennsylvanians struggling with health issues. Fetterman can generate an enormous amount of sympathy — and empathy — by presenting himself (as he has throughout the race to date) as a normal Pennsylvanian trying his best to get through the day, even in the face of to adverse circumstances. . He needs to make sure everyone watching the eventual debate knows that he continues to have lingering issues related to his stroke and his performance is unlikely to be perfect. And that he is improving day by day but sometimes it is a struggle. People like to vote for someone they think really understands their life – the good and the bad.
To be clear: this decision alone does not win the race for Fetterman. But it removes a major problem for Oz and, assuming Fetterman does an honorable job in the debate, makes Oz’s questions about his health more difficult to sustain.