“‘By January, I’m going [to] be, you know, much better. And Dr. Oz is still going to be a fraud.’ ”
— Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman on his recovery from a stroke
That’s how John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, assured voters that he would be fit to serve following a stroke in May, which sidelined him from the campaign trail for three months.
In an interview with NBC News’ Dasha Burns that was taped Friday and aired Tuesday, Fetterman said his recovery “changes everything” but would not impact his ability to serve in Congress, should voters elect him over Republican nominee Mehmet Oz.
“I feel like I’m gonna get better and better, every day,” Fetterman said.
During the interview, the current lieutenant governor used a computer with closed-captioning to understand what he was being asked due to ongoing auditory processing problems resulting from the stroke.
“Every now and then I’ll miss a word. Every now and then,” Fetterman said. “Or sometimes I’ll maybe mush two words together. But as long as I have captioning, I’m able to understand exactly what’s being asked.”
Burns said that in small talk before the interview without closed captioning, “it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation,” but later noted that experts say that Fetterman’s symptoms do not indicate any cognitive or memory issues, according to a Daily Beast report.
The interview showed some of Fetterman’s lingering speech issues, such as when he struggled to pronounced the word “empathetic,” something that he attributed to a side effect of the stroke.
“I always thought I was very empathetic before having a stroke, but now after having that stroke, I really understand much more kind of the challenges Americans have day in and day out,” he said.
Questions about the Democratic candidate’s health have shrouded the race, particularly as Fetterman’s campaign has declined to release his medical records.
“Mr. Fetterman’s failure to release his medical records has allowed Mr. Oz to make Mr. Fetterman’s health a major campaign issue,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board wrote on Sunday. The editorial added that his policy issues are more important than his health records, but that the “best way [he] can ensure that voters don’t get distracted from important policy questions is by releasing his medical records.”
Pressed about the medical records by NBC, Fetterman countered that he feels like “we have been very transparent in a lot of different ways” about his health.
Earlier this summer, Fetterman had a strong lead over Oz in polls, with some showing him up by as much as 13 points. However, Oz has gained ground, with surveys conducted in late September showing Fetterman leading by an average of 3.7 points, according to RealClearPolitics data.
The tightening of the polls, along with Republican spending against Fetterman ramping up, prompted Cook Political Report to shift back its race rating from “lean” Democrat to a “toss-up.”
Fetterman and Oz are slated to face off in the race’s first and only debate on Oct. 25, in which Fetterman plans to again use closed captioning.
The Oz campaign has had to deal previously with criticism of the celebrity surgeon’s TV show and past medical advice. A spokesman for the GOP candidate recently told the Washington Post that it’s “idiotic and preposterous to imply that he shared the same beliefs and opinions as every guest on his show, or that having someone on his show constitutes a blanket endorsement of their beliefs.”