HARRISBURG, Pa. (NEXSTAR) — Tuesday night’s Pennsylvania senatorial debate between Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican challenger Mehmet Oz provided plenty of punch, as the pair butted heads over several issues, including their reputations, abortion laws and the state economy.
Pennsylvania is one of a few state races under national spotlight, as its winner could represent a pickup seat for Senate Democrats or else a hold for Senate Republicans — and ultimately cement control of the current 50-50 Senate. Both Fetterman and Oz hope to fill the seat of Sen. Pat Toomey (R), who’s retiring after two terms.
Tuesday’s debate was Fetterman and Oz’s first and last face-off before the election, and both men went in with separate final pitches to Pennsylvanians. Fetterman, 53, has faced concerns over his health after a near-fatal stroke back in May, though his campaign released a letter from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center indicating his ability to serve as senator.
Former daytime talk-show host Oz, meanwhile, faces the hurdle of convincing Pennsylvanians he’s the unlikely but correct person for the job. Oz, 62, has faced criticism from Fetterman, and others, of being out of touch and extreme — in addition to not being from the state. This summer, Fetterman’s campaign even erected billboards on the highway from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, reading “Now leaving New Jersey for Pennsylvania…just like Dr. Oz.”
The debate included jabbing from both men. Here are the four big takeaways from Tuesday.
Fitness to serve
While Fetterman defended his health, saying he trusts “real” doctors who have given him the go-ahead to serve as senator should he win, he didn’t say whether he would release his full medical records, explaining he believes he’s been fully transparent with Pennsylvanians thus far. He addressed previous comments made by the Oz campaign on his health, saying “I’ve had a stroke. He [Oz] has never let me forget it. It [the stroke] knocked me down but I got back up. And that’s what this campaign is about: fighting for everyone who ever got knocked down.”
Oz, meanwhile, pushed back against Fetterman’s critiques of the physician being a rich elite “with 10 gigantic mansions” made from selling questionable medical products. Oz said he never sold the weight-loss products he’s been accused of selling, saying the items were merely advertising for his show. Oz said he “ruffled feathers” on his show because he told the truth and armed people with information, which he said he’d do as a senator.
While neither candidate outlined specific plans for protecting/stimulating Pennsylvania’s economy, both indicated they’d be fighting for residents to afford comfortable lives.
Fetterman said he’d support increasing the state’s minimum wage — currently $7.25 per hour — to $15 per hour, in addition to going after companies that gouge prices. Fetterman argued that businesses should not be getting subsidies if they can’t afford to pay their employees fairly.
Oz said he’d support the state’s economy through spending cuts, not raising taxes — in addition to “opening up” the state’s energy potential. While Oz would not say that he’d support passing a $15 minimum wage law, he said he’d work to support Pennsylvania businesses in a way that the market would automatically adjust for workers to make more than $15 per hour.
While Oz claimed Fetterman supports “abortion at 38 weeks, on the delivery table,” Oz himself says he also doesn’t support federal legislation on abortion, saying he would not support legislation that intervenes with state’s rights on the matter.
Fetterman denied Oz’s claims, saying he only supports reinstating Roe v. Wade regulations, in addition to letting women’s healthcare being between them and their doctor. Fetterman said given the opportunity, he’d codify abortion rights for Pennsylvanians, saying, “Abortion is healthcare.”
Fetterman fielded questions about claims he’s “soft” on crime by touting past decisions he made as mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, where he said he “worked with the police and the community” to push back on gun violence. The lieutenant governor also knocked Oz for his own safety agenda, saying “all he’s [Oz] done in put a plan up on his website in the past 24 hours.”
Oz claimed Fetterman supported “releasing criminals from jail no matter what they’ve done” and said that as senator, he’d support background checks on guns and more investment in mental health to address gun violence. Oz said, however, that he had some problems with elements of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was passed in June.
In their closing statements, Fetterman and Oz underlined themselves as fighting for Pennsylvanians in different ways.
While Fetterman said his campaign was about fighting for those who’ve been “knocked down,” in addition to “forgotten communities,” Oz said he’s running to help those who are “unhappy with where America’s headed.”
What polls say
A CNN poll released Monday showed Fetterman with a 6-point lead (51% of likely voters) over Oz (45%). Meanwhile, a CBS News-You Gov poll published Tuesday showed only 2-point lead for Fetterman over Oz.
Election Day is Nov. 8.