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Fetterman commits to one debate with Oz in Pa. Senate race after rejecting earlier requests

Mehmet Oz this week ramped up his criticism of John Fetterman’s reluctance to debate, saying his Democratic opponent was either avoiding a challenge or “too sick to participate.”

Democrat John Fetterman on Wednesday agreed to a debate in Pennsylvania’s closely watched race for an open Senate seat, a day after Republican Mehmet Oz publicly questioned his opponent’s explanation for rejecting earlier invitations.

A spokesperson, Joe Calvello, said Fetterman, the state's lieutenant governor, was committing to one debate. The details have yet to be finalized, although Fetterman said it would likely take place in October.

"We’re absolutely going to debate Dr. Oz, and it was always our intent to do that. It has simply only ever been about addressing some of the lingering issues of my stroke, the auditory processing, and we’re going to be able to work that out," Fetterman said in a statement Wednesday.

Image: John Fetterman
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the Senate, speaks Monday in a Labor Day visit to United Steelworkers of America Local Union 2227 in West Mifflin.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

“We will debate sometime in the middle to end of October — as each of the past two Pennsylvania Senate races have — on a major television station to reach voters across the Commonwealth. We are still finalizing the details."

Oz, a celebrity physician, cast doubt Tuesday over Fetterman's reluctance to debate, saying Fetterman was either avoiding a challenge to his views or "too sick to participate in the debate."

Oz has made Fetterman's health a campaign issue since Fetterman had a stroke shortly before the May primary. Last month, Oz challenged Fetterman to five debates.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Oz's campaign derided Fetterman's pledge to hold one debate.

“BIG NEWS! John Fetterman has agreed to debate at a SECRET DEBATE. We don’t know WHERE. We don’t know WHEN. We don’t know HOW. It’s a big SECRET!” said Brittany Yanick, the communications director for the Oz campaign.

“Let’s be clear — Dr. Oz’s campaign won’t agree to a SECRET debate. It has to be a REAL one with REAL journalists asking REAL questions. Sorry John — imaginary debates don’t count!” Yanick added.

Fetterman previously dismissed Oz’s request to hold their opening debate during the first week of September, arguing that Oz’s campaign thinks “it is funny to mock” his recovery from the stroke after it laid out a list of debate “concessions” that focused on Fetterman's health. The Oz campaign had suggested, for example, that it would cover the costs of any additional medical personnel Fetterman might need during a debate and allow him bathroom breaks.

Fetterman has said he is working to improve his auditory processing and speech during his recovery.