6 Takeaways From Fetterman–Oz Pennsylvania Senate Debate

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With just 13 days before the election, and early voting already underway, Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz met Tuesday in Harrisburg at WHTM Television, for their first and only debate. It was a chance for voters to finally compare Republican Oz, a heart surgeon and television personality, next to Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democrat lieutenant governor.

Voters also got a glimpse of how Fetterman thinks on his feet after suffering a stroke before the May primary, which has left him struggling to communicate. When speaking, the once confident Fetterman has had a halting speech pattern on the campaign trail. This continued in the debate. He has had a modest schedule of well-controlled campaign speaking events.

For the debate, Fetterman requested a closed captioning system providing questions in written form to help him process the meaning of the questions from moderators, Dennis Owens, WHTM news anchor, and Lisa Sylvester, WPXI anchor.

As lieutenant governor, Fetterman traveled to each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in 2019 on a recreational marijuana listening tour. Many voters met him and heard him speak at that time, and can likely see the difference in his communication style today.

Fetterman and Oz were invited to a number of debates, but Fetterman did not finalize the details with those organizers that have routinely handled debates in the past. Ultimately he agreed to a single one-hour debate.

Here are some debate details voters may want to consider.

Messaging Mitigation

Fetterman’s campaign sent staffers and volunteers a six-page “Debate Night Toolkit” asking everyone to post in support of Fetterman on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Helpers were instructed to join the campaign’s Facebook group and Slack channel.

They were to monitor the social media accounts of top campaign workers and Fetterman’s wife Gisele, also known as SLOP, the toolkit noted. That stands for Second Lady of Pennsylvania.

The toolkit offers many ideas on what to post, in preparation for mistakes Fetterman might make. Suggested posts include the following:

“John did not get here by winning debates or being a polished speaker. He got here because he connects with Pennsylvanians.”  

 “John’s opponent has been a professional TV personality for the last two decades. Dr. Oz clearly comes in with a huge built-in advantage.”

“John has had a remarkable recovery, but there’s never been a closed captions debate like this with one of the candidates dealing with auditory processing disorder. The captioning process may also lead to time delays and errors in the exchanges between the moderators and the candidates.” 

By Beth Brelje

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