Control of the United States Senate may come down to who wins the Pennsylvania Senate contest between Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman.
Throughout August, the RealClearPolitics average showed Fetterman with an 8.7-point lead. The margin was down to four and a half points by late September. On the eve of their first and only debate, the average was only 1.6 points.
With this polling data in mind, the stage was set for last night’s much anticipated debate between DOCTOR (emphasis mine and for good reason) Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman.
The Fetterman campaign tried to avoid a debate with Oz. When that became politically untenable, they limited it to one, insisted on closed captioning, and picked a date two weeks before election day. The late date gave Fetterman the maximum recovery time from his stroke while still giving the campaign time to regain footing if the worst case scenario happened.
With the debate in the rear view mirror, Fetterman may have been better off taking his chances avoiding a one on one confrontation with Oz.
READ MORE — Sen. Roger Marshall: Dr. Oz would represent Pennsylvanians well in the U.S. Senate
The first question went to Fetterman. His first words, in my opinion, effectively ended the debate. “Goodnight, everybody,” he said. I expected him to wave goodbye. Not since Admiral Stockdale opened his vice presidential debate by asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?” has a candidate flubbed the opening line of a debate so severely. Game, set, match.
That’s the first of five reasons Oz won the debate.
Perhaps saying “goodnight, everybody” to open is an example of all the synapses not firing, but you’ve got to be able to win at “hello.” Then Fetterman addressed what he called “the elephant in the room. I had a stroke. He’ll never let me forget that.” Yeah, it wasn’t him. It was the large monitors with closed captioning above the moderators’ heads. It was Fetterman’s vapor-locking and halting speech. I missed if Oz mentioned Fetterman’s health during the debate, but it was pretty hard for an unbiased audience to miss.
Let’s be real: on Fetterman’s best day, he still couldn’t debate Oz.
Sorry to be pedantic. My father was a doctor, so maybe this is personal. The moderators insisted on calling Oz “Mister Oz.” While it’s not one of the five reasons Oz won, it’s aggravating enough to mention, even if Oz didn’t.
By my count, he was called Mr. Oz at least once by NewsNation anchor Leland Vittert, who introduced the debate, followed by at least eighteen times by moderator Lisa Sylvester (WPXI-TV/Pittsburgh) and nine times by Dennis Owens (ABC27, Harrisburg). It was a decision obviously made ahead of time and was disrespectful.
It is a small, trivial point, but every time we see Jill Biden, it’s always with a fuss that it’s “DOCTOR Biden.” That’s doctor as in Ed.D., which she received in 2006 for her thesis “Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students’ Needs.” Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to have a little respect for the Harvard undergrad, Penn Medical School graduate, and retired cardiothoracic surgeon (something he did remind viewers of as a way of showcasing his problem solving skills), DOCTOR Oz, M.D.
Neither candidate consistently replied to the questions asked. Like any good politician, they responded to what they wanted to answer. Both interrupted one another and the moderator in varying degrees of rudeness. How viewers see it reflects the candidate they support, as are the cases with many of the examples I will list. The question is how those who haven’t firmly made up their minds see it.
Fetterman repeatedly used the line: “The Oz TV rule. If he’s on TV, he’s lying.” An effective communicator might have done damage with this statement. I don’t think Fetterman made it stick because he couldn’t tie it to specific inconsistencies. For example, he said Oz wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. Oz pushed back, but Fetterman never produced any statements of Oz suggesting cutting either program.
Fetterman used more of his time to attack Oz than answer the questions. Oz was better at dividing his time between answering and contrasting with Fetterman, which is the second reason I believe he won the debate.
The third reason Oz won is he mentioned specific towns where people he met told him their problems and then presented simple solutions.
There are a couple of moments that stood out. Fetterman had no response for his differing stances on fracking. First, he talked about living across the street from an iron mill that wanted to frack. Huh?
When Sylvester asked for clarification on his diametrically opposing statements, Fetterman looked like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. The cartoon bubble said, “I know you caught me in the act, but don’t believe your lying eyes.” His actual response: “And I don’t, I don’t. I support fracking. And I stand. And I do support fracking.” Stroke or no stroke, Fetterman will never have a better answer about fracking. It was his second weakest moment of the night (after opening with “goodnight”).
Oz could have answered the same question better, too. He should have said, “Yes, in 2014, we needed more health data. In 2022, we have enough information to proceed safely.” He tied many of his answers, from inflation to minimum wage to energy independence and fracking.
There was a long pause while Fetterman tried to think of a policy where he disagreed with Biden. Oz clearly did not want to do anything to appear to take advantage of Fetterman’s health, but this is one time when he should have pressed. If Fetterman disagrees with Biden, it’s because the president is not liberal enough.
Fetterman also declined to pledge to release his health records. He said, “Transparency is about showing up.” Then he added he would defer to his “real doctors,” which was the cheapest shot of the night from either candidate. As already stated, Oz is a surgeon with a Penn Medical School education. As Fetterman claimed, he was transparent about using closed captioning (which the moderators actually pointed out), and he once again stumbled over his words. There is no closed captioning system in the U.S. Senate.
After Fetterman boasted about his record on crime, Oz pointed out he had the backing of the police from the town where Fetterman had served as mayor.
Fetterman didn’t use his time well to respond to charges that he hadn’t paid his taxes. He said it was about helping students buy a house. It was never an issue before, and it was about nonprofits. Sure.
Same when Oz said Fetterman had to take down television commercials because they were inaccurate or that Fetterman supported legalizing all drugs.
Fetterman’s solution to rising college costs? “I just believe it costs too much and providing the resources to afford it,” he said.
Who knows how Fetterman would perform if 100 percent healthy, but I suspect he couldn’t debate Oz on his best day. As he is, he is in no condition to become a U.S. Senator in a closely divided Senate.
When asked about Vice President Harris’ statement that the border is secure, Fetterman declared we need a “comprehensive and bipartisan immigration solution.” He has a way of overstating the obvious, doesn’t he?
Oz reminded viewers that Fetterman also said, “If you like Joe Manchin, don’t vote for me,” which led to the fourth reason Oz won the debate. He talked about working in a bipartisan manner — and this may have been the most believable point he hammered home throughout the night.
Truthfully, for the sake of the Party, Fetterman should have stepped aside after the stroke. He needs time to heal. Then he can reconsider his political future. Who knows how Fetterman would perform if 100 percent healthy, but I suspect he couldn’t debate Oz on his best day. As he is, he is in no condition to become a U.S. Senator in a closely divided Senate.
That doesn’t mean Oz was flawless.
What was Oz trying to accomplish with his answers on abortion? He said the matter should be between “a woman, her doctor, and local political leaders.” They’re undoubtedly making a TV commercial with Doug Mastriano (GOP candidate for Pennsylvania governor — and hardline pro-lifer) and Oz’s faces next to one another. He also didn’t say whether he would or would not support Lindsey Graham’s proposal to ban abortion after fifteen weeks, insisting he had answered three times. The abortion segment was Oz at his most slippery.
People voting primarily on pro-choice principles are going to vote for Fetterman; nothing Oz said during the debate will change their minds. Pro-life conservatives have lacked enthusiasm for Oz. His remarks will not endear him to them further.
Oz did contrast his position on abortion with Fetterman’s unfettered access to abortion through 38 weeks, including federal funding for abortion. At best, the abortion questions won’t help Oz and potentially hurt him with the conservatives he needs in mass.
Oz also slipped when asked if he would support Trump. He got it right the first time when he replied that he would support the Republican nominee in 2024. He should have stuck with that answer when pressed. Likewise, Fetterman pledged to support the deeply unpopular Biden.
The fifth reason Oz won came in his final statement. It was a twist on Reagan’s “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” After reciting the problems he’s heard “traveling into the four corners of the beautiful Commonwealth” and waiting through another Fetterman outburst, Oz asked: “Are you unhappy with where America’s headed? If you are as well, I’m the candidate for change.” It was well delivered.
These five reasons are why DOCTOR Mehmet Oz will win Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat on Nov. 8 and help Republicans win control of the Senate.
If the five reasons I’ve listed so far aren’t compelling, I’ve got a sixth — but this is only for people in the Philadelphia area. Everybody else, go away now, please.
(Come on, he sang Fly, Eagles Fly!)
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.