Expect a ‘Raw’ John Fetterman in His Return to the Campaign Trail

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, speaks at a Centre County Democrats' breakfast event at a hotel at the Mountain View Country Club, Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Boalsburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

By Patrick Berkery

August 12, 2022

Pennsylvania’s Democratic US Senate candidate John Fetterman is holding a rally Friday in Erie, his first public appearance since suffering a stroke in May.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic US Senate candidate John Fetterman will make his first public appearance since suffering a stroke in May at a campaign rally Friday in Erie. 

Fetterman, who was hospitalized for several days after the May health scare, is expected to offer emotional remarks about his experience. He said in June that he almost died. In true Fetterman style, his remarks are expected to be “raw,” according to campaign spokesman Joe Calvello.

“He’ll talk about how blessed he is to be back,” Calvello said. “It’ll be somewhat emotional — a little raw about what he went through, how grateful he is to be campaigning again.”

The appearance marks the 52-year-old lieutenant governor’s only scheduled rally this month, although he’s expected to appear at a handful of lower-profile events as he gradually ramps up his public schedule, Calvello said.

The Erie rally is a significant step for Fetterman, who has only headlined a closed-press fundraiser hosted by Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania in late July, and informal campaign gatherings while recovering.

Despite being off the campaign trail for a few months, Fetterman out-fundraised his Republican opponent, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in the second quarter — bringing in $11 million compared with $5.5 million, including $3.2 million in personal loans, for Oz.

Fetterman’s campaign has jumped on every attempt to slam the Donald Trump-endorsed celebrity surgeon for his ties to New Jersey, enlisting the help of Garden State celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band guitarist and “Sopranos” actor Steven Van Zandt, and reality television star Snooki.

Team Fetterman put a billboard up on the New Jersey side of the Betsy Ross Bridge that reads “Now leaving New Jersey for Pennsylvania…just like Dr. Oz.” And most recently, the campaign seized upon a report that Oz is receiving a $50,000 tax break on a Montgomery County property he doesn’t live in.

A recent Fox News poll showed Fetterman holding an 11-point lead over Oz in the race for Republican Pat Toomey’s Senate seat. It’s Fetterman’s largest lead in any poll since June. Fetterman leads Oz 47% to 36%.

Oz has railed against Fetterman’s prolonged public absence throughout the summer.

Oz posted a fake “Have You Seen This Person?” poster online last month. He needled Fetterman again Wednesday on social media. “It has been 90 DAYS since Fetterman’s last public campaign event,” Oz tweeted. “Pennsylvanians deserve answers.”

Fetterman’s health has been a dominant issue in the Senate contest since the days before the May 17 primary, when his campaign revealed he had a stroke. He required surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator, and later disclosed that he also had a serious heart condition.

His doctor offered a blunt letter in early June detailing Fetterman’s decision not to take prescribed medication or see a doctor for several years after a 2017 health scare.

“If he does what I’ve told him, and I do believe that he is taking his recovery and his health very seriously this time, he should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem,” Dr. Ramesh Chandra wrote.

Fetterman is now taking his medication as prescribed, eating a low-sodium diet and walking 3 to 5 miles most days, Calvello said: “He’s following the doctor’s orders.”

Voters may not detect any lingering symptoms, but he has mild speech and hearing issues.

“He’ll miss a word here or there when he’s speaking sometimes, or maybe in a crowded room he’ll miss hearing a word,” Calvello said. “Besides that, he’s rock solid.”

Fetterman’s return marks a significant development in the race to fill retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat. The Pennsylvania contest offers Democrats perhaps their best pickup opportunity nationally as the two parties battle for Senate control in the November midterm elections. The chamber is now split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the narrowest of majorities with her tie-breaking vote.

Fetterman insisted he was well enough to win the Senate contest in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“I would never be in this if we were not absolutely, 100% able to run fully and to win — and we believe that we are,” Fetterman told the newspaper.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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