John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz to face off on the debate stage for the first and only time in the high-stakes battle for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat

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Mehmet Oz, John Fetterman
Pennsylvania Senate candidates Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman.

  • Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz will debate for the first and only time on Tuesday night.
  • The two rivals have been locked in a bitter battle that’s been tightening in recent weeks.
  • The Pennsylvania election could determine which party controls the US Senate.

Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz are set to take the debate stage for the first and only time on Tuesday evening, two weeks before a high-stakes midterm election in Pennsylvania that could determine which party controls the Senate.

The closely watched race has grown more competitive as Oz, a political newcomer and cardiothoracic surgeon famous for his daytime TV talk show, has narrowed a lead long held by Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor since 2019. Several pollsters have rated the open Senate seat a “toss-up.”

Tuesday night will grant voters an opportunity to see the differences between the two candidates on the same stage ahead of Election Day. Fetterman and Oz are widely expected to discuss their positions on top voter concerns, including inflation and abortion. The one-hour debate, scheduled for 8 p.m. ET, will take place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, and will be aired on local TV news channels throughout the state.

The rivals have been locked in a bitter battle, featuring social media trolling and campaign ads casting Fetterman as a “soft-on-crime” radical Democrat and Oz as an out-of-touch wealthy celebrity and carpet-bagger. 

In recent weeks, Fetterman has tried to fend off attacks from his opponent on his health, declaring that he’s fit to serve after suffering from a stroke in May that took him off the trail for around three months.

The progressive Democrat, who’s since returned to in-person campaigning and one-on-one media interviews, last week released an updated medical report from his primary doctor, stating that he’s recovering well and “can work full duty in public office.” During the debate, Fetterman will rely on closed captioning to accommodate an auditory processing disorder he developed from the stroke.

“This is probably a race where both candidates don’t want the focus to be on them, and I feel like the focus has been more on Fetterman lately,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Insider, adding that the debate could change that.

“On one hand, you could say that Oz is a weaker candidate than Fetterman, although Fetterman is hardly perfect himself,” Kondik continued. “On the other hand, [Oz’s] got probably the right party label in a year like this, and that may be more important than anything else.”

Historically, the president’s party loses ground in the midterm elections, leaving Democratic candidates running vulnerable nationwide in 2022. The Pennsylvania Senate seat, being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, is one of the most important contests this year as Democrats hope to expand their upper-chamber majority while Republicans aim to flip control. 

The general election contest in the Keystone State has also been one of the most expensive in the nation: Fetterman has raised nearly $48 million with $4.2 million in cash on hand, outpacing Oz’s $34.9 million fundraising total and $2.5 million in cash on hand.

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