Democrats are focus-grouping Fetterman’s health. Swing voters think he’s getting sharper.

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WASHINGTON — In focus groups in Pennsylvania this week, swing voters were shown video of Senate Democratic nominee John Fetterman speaking at consecutive events since the May stroke. According to two people familiar with the responses given to Democratic operatives, the general consensus was that persuading voters believed Fetterman to be fit to serve and be sharp.

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But the fact that Democrats are asking voters about Fetterman’s health at least raises some concern about whether it will affect a tight race, even among candidates loyal to the party. The U.S. strengthens its support, ramps up its public program and prepares for October 25. Debate with Republican opponent Mehmet Oz.

Four months after the stroke, Fetterman has not released his medical records. For most of the summer, as he recuperated, he made few public appearances. He agreed to a solo debate performance with Oz, who has lagged behind in the polls, accusing him of deferring more debate to hide any infirmities.


Oz asks if Fetterman is ‘too sick’ to argue

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September 6, 202203:05

Fetterman has said that his main challenge is an “auditory processing” problem, which means he may have trouble – especially in noisy settings – choosing what he sounds like to hear.

Earlier this month, Sen. Pat Tommy, R-Pa., who is retiring after two terms and supports Oz, questioned whether a Democrat could function in the Senate.

“As someone who has served in the United States Senate for almost 12 years now, I have a really good understanding of how this space works,” Tumi said on September 6. Communicate effectively, if he is not able to engage with the press, if he is not able to engage with colleagues, he will not be able to work.”

Democrats say Oz is pursuing a risky strategy because Fetterman’s potential becomes increasingly apparent at rallies, at campaign events with small groups, and in face-to-face conversations. Furthermore, he says, voters are turned off by Oz — a doctor — attacking a stroke victim’s health, a conclusion supported by some of the focus group participants.

“I was in Scranton with him on Saturday — he had 1,000 people! I’ve been in a lot of gatherings and rally-type settings for a Senate race — there aren’t a lot of Senate races that get to 1,000 people,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in an interview, praising Fetterman, engaging with voters. “That connection is very strong. The other side is trying to break it and they’re in real trouble because they don’t have that same connection. That’s what race is about.”

There are a lot of policy issues for Pennsylvania voters — from the state of the economy to abortion and crime. But Oz has ensured that Fetterman’s health problems remain a top topic of political conversation. Fetterman now has a chance to put those concerns to rest in a high-stakes campaign that could take control of the Democratic-led Senate and determine the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

“John is communicating effectively with the people of Pennsylvania and running one of the best Senate campaigns in the country,” said Fetterman advisor Rebecca Katz, a former Senate leadership aide. “We don’t have to speculate about whether he can be an effective leader in January, because he has four more months to recover. It’s in effect now.”

Two sitting senators, Ben Ray Lujan, D.N.M., and Chris Van Hollen, D-M.D., have had a stroke this year and have returned to work.

Brooke Hatfield, associate director of health care services at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, an advocacy group for professionals and scientists who work in the communication-support fields, compared hearing-processing challenges in stroke victims “in a foreign country”. Being dropped is “you know the language but don’t speak it every day,” adding that the brain has to “work harder”.

But, he said, auditory-processing issues do not affect decision-making or problem-solving and noted that a senator would have staff and technology — such as the closed-captioning fatterman now uses — to help. .

“There is a lot of support available for people with communication gaps,” Hatfield said. “I can’t think of a reason why someone with communication challenges … wouldn’t be able to do the things they need to do.”

Republican Senate Candidate Mehmet Ozu
Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz speaks at a rally on Sept. 3 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.Michelle Gustafson / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Earlier this summer, Pennsylvania Democrats privately expressed concerns about Fetterman’s health and lack of transparency, but Fetterman has played down their fears. The party has converged around one message: highlighting the size of his recent crowd, honing his bond with voters, and alluding to Oz’s New Jersey roots.

Still, it appears the race is over in the Keystone State. In a recent CBS News poll, Fetterman led Oz from 52% to 47%. Fetterman led Oz from 49% to 44% in one Morning Call/Muhlenberg College Poll Released on Thursday.

The CBS survey revealed Oz’s persistent vulnerabilities within the GOP. While independents split evenly between the two candidates, with 49% for each candidate, 13% of Republicans said they would vote for Oz over Fetterman (compared to only 5% of Democrats who chose Oz over Fetterman). .

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa. mourned the ugly GOP nomination contest that tarnished Oz’s image.

“No one can beat a Republican more than other Republicans in the primaries,” he said, adding that Oz’s biggest problem is “probably Republicans who say ‘I’m not sure he’s a real Republican.”

But operatives in both parties believe the race has tightened in recent weeks as Republicans are coming home to Oz and the fight is for traditional swing voters.

Oz spokeswoman Brittany Yannick said in an email that Fetterman’s weaknesses are echoing in the campaign’s internal poll.

“John Fetterman’s lead in the Senate race has evaporated as Dr. Oz is speaking to voters — Republicans, Democrats and independents — who want to see a change from the failed policies of the past,” Yannick said. “John Fetterman This whole campaign has failed to be honest about two things: his health and his support for releasing convicted killers to the streets.”

A CBS poll conducted September 6-12 found that 59 percent to 41 percent of voters say Fetterman is in good enough health to serve in public office. Among independent candidates, it was 55% to 45%.

That helps explain why Republicans are divided over how much to focus on Fetterman’s health. Much of his advertising spending has focused on allegations that Fetterman, who served on the state parole board, is soft on the crime and too far-fetched on economic issues.

In addition to Tommy, national Republicans shy away from direct claims that Fetterman lacks the perks of being a senator, suggesting instead that he should be more transparent and pivot to policy criticism.

Republican campaign branch chairman Rick Scott, R-Fla. “He has to come clean about his health,” he said. When asked if Fetterman had what it takes to work. “And then it also has to come clean about its radical policies like releasing a third of the criminals in the state and legalizing all drugs.”

Democrats say Oz’s strategy has been risky because some voters find it unfair to see a doctor attacking a stroke victim—and because he has lowered the bar for Fetterman’s debate performance so much that it should be cleared. would be easy to do.

State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, one of Fetterman’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, who has since the rally around himsaid in an interview, he believes Oz’s attacks on Fetterman’s health showed a “thinness” that would turn voters off.

Kenyatta said he has been encouraged by what he has seen and heard from Fetterman since he resumed campaigning.

“It was very scary for a lot of people,” Kenyatta said of the stroke. “And I think people are happy to see that he took the time he needed to get back to a place where he could maintain the kind of strong program that he’s had since getting back on the campaign trail.” has been maintained.”

Andy Herkulich, chairman of the Mercer County Democratic Party in western Pennsylvania, hosted Fetterman at a rally in late August and said the lieutenant governor was recovering well.

“If he’s having a problem, it’s minor,” said Herkulich, who chuckled with Fetterman backstage. “But if you want to talk about psychic, I mean, still very fast. The remembered stuff we’ve talked about before. I think he’s fine.”

The question is whether his fellow Pennsylvanians will feel the same way on November 8.

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