What to know about the Pa. Senate debate
- The debate between Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz lasted roughly an hour.
- The candidates sparred over abortion, fracking and immigration. Here are the key takeaways.
- Both campaigns agreed to a closed captioning accommodation to allow Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, to read questions and answers spoken and transcribed instantly.
- The close contest could decide control of the Senate.
Key takeaways from an hour with Oz and Fetterman
Fetterman’s performance reinforced questions about his recovery from a May stroke, while Oz gave an answer on abortion that the Democrat immediately seized on for future attacks — and the Republican hammered Fetterman on crime.
For what we learned after an hour — which involved a lot of shouting and rapid-fire answers — in Harrisburg, click here.
Fetterman campaign attacks Oz for saying 'local political leaders' should be involved in abortion decisions
Fetterman's campaign took aim at a remark Oz made earlier in the night related to abortion. Asked whether he would support a nationwide abortion ban, Oz said he thought abortion policies should be left up to “women, doctors, local political leaders."
“Our campaign will be putting money behind making sure as many women as possible hear Dr. Oz’s radical belief that ‘local political leaders’ should have as much say over a woman’s abortion decisions as women themselves and their doctors," said Joe Calvello, Fetterman's campaign spokesman. “After months of trying to hide his extreme abortion position, Oz let it slip on the debate stage on Tuesday. Oz belongs nowhere near the U.S. Senate, and suburban voters across Pennsylvania will see just how out-of-touch Oz is on this issue.”
Fetterman campaign says it raised $500,000 after debate
GOP Sen. Toomey questions Fetterman's health, says Oz is 'only' person fit to replace him
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., tweeted that Oz is the only person onstage Tuesday fit to serve as a senator, questioning Fetterman's health and debate performance.
"Anyone watching today could tell there was only one person on that stage who can represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate: @Dr.Oz." Toomey wrote. "It's sad to see John Fetterman struggling so much. He should take more time to allow himself to fully recover."
Fetterman and Oz are running to fill Toomey's seat in the Senate. Toomey endorsed Oz after the primary and has appeared alongside him at campaign events.
In May, before primary, former President Donald Trump implored Pennsylvanians at a rally to back Oz over GOP rival Dave McCormick, labeling McCormick "more Toomey than he is MAGA."
Toomey defended the 2020 vote in Pennsylvania and voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial.
Does Oz want to cut Social Security, as Fetterman claims?
"Dr. Oz and the Republicans believe in cutting Medicare and Social Security. I believe that they have to support and expand Social Security, and if somebody sends me the send me to Washington, D.C., I would support and stand — and support Social Security," Fetterman said.
Asked what Fetterman was basing that on, a campaign aide cited Oz's remarks April 5 praising National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott, who has proposed a plan to sunset federal legislation after five years.
In that interview, Oz praised Scott, a senator from Florida, and his "vision for what the party can do going forward," saying he has "a game plan" — but without endorsing the policy to sunset programs like Social Security.
Oz accused Fetterman during the debate of seeking to "fearmonger" with older voters. "We made a deal with the wonderful seniors of our nation. They worked their hearts out. They paid into a program. No one's going to touch it on my watch except to make sure that it's stronger than it is right now," Oz said. "John Fetterman, again, has been running ads and saying that I'm against those [programs] with no proof."
Fetterman and Oz offer closing thoughts
In his closing statement, Fetterman reiterated that his campaign "is all about fighting for anyone that ever got knocked down to get back up again," adding he is campaigning for "forgotten" communities all across the state.
Oz, meanwhile, framed his remarks around the American dream.
"I believe we’re the land of opportunity, the land of plenty," he said, saying he believes in balancing the budget, expanding energy production, securing the border and giving parents more control over schooling. "Most of all, I believe in you."
Both candidates were then asked whom they are rooting for in this weekend's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Fetterman said the Steelers. Oz the Eagles.
"Fly, Eagles, fly," Oz finished.
Oz, Fetterman disagree on canceling student debt
Both candidates were asked how they would address the cost of higher education, but neither provided a concrete plan.
Instead, Fetterman and Oz made clear their differing views about President Joe Biden's plan to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student debt. Oz said it wasn't fair to make a plumber who didn't go to college pick up the bill for a lawyer who didn't pay off their debt, while Fetterman said he supported the move and said Oz "loves free money when it's half a million tax break" for himself.
Fetterman, however, did say more resources needed to be devoted to public schools like Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh to make them more affordable for everyday families. And Oz said offering more classes online could help reduce the cost.
Oz and Fetterman argued even as they agreed on SCOTUS, filibuster
Both candidates said Tuesday night they opposed expanding the Supreme Court, an idea that has gained traction with some on the left in the wake of Republican appointees' dominating the high court.
"I don't believe in that," Fetterman said of adding seats to the bench. "It’s not about changing the rules. It’s about acknowledging where we’re at."
Oz agreed: "I would never touch the makeup of the Supreme Court."
But he immediately picked a fight over the filibuster, saying Fetterman's "radical positions have spilled over" to "removing the brakes on the Senate overreacting."
Fetterman interjected to say Oz was right. "That is true! That is true!" he said.
Fetterman pressed about jogger confrontation
After he was pressed about whether he would support Trump in 2024 despite the former president's legal troubles, Oz sought to turn the conversation to a years-old encounter in which Fetterman chased down a Black jogger with a shotgun while he was mayor of Braddock.
"Why haven’t you apologized to that unarmed innocent Black man?" Oz asked.
Fetterman said that he was merely defending his town as its chief law enforcement officer and that the community "all understood what happened."
The incident happened nine years ago after Fetterman said he heard what sounded like gunshots and saw a man running away from the sound. You can read more about it here.
Fetterman: Statue of Liberty doesn't call for bus tickets
Oz and Fetterman traded shots on immigration that roughly mirror the positions of their respective parties.
"We have a catastrophe at the border," Oz said, noting that his parents immigrated to the U.S. He accused Democrats, including Fetterman, of "creating a humanitarian crisis" by supporting less strict enforcement of immigration laws.
Fetterman got the last word — and took a swipe at Republican governors who have sent busloads of immigrants to Northern cities.
"I believe that a secure border can be compatible with compassion," Fetterman said. And, he added, "I don’t ever recall in the Statue of Liberty that they say, 'Take our tired huddled masses and put them on a bus.'"
Fetterman attacks Oz on China
Asked what he viewed as the "greatest foreign threat to the United States of America," Fetterman responded: "China."
"China is not our friend," he said, accusing Oz of manufacturing his merchandise in China.
Oz said the biggest threat was "the fact that our country is not projecting strength."
"It doesn’t make any sense for America to treat our enemies better than our allies," Oz said. He added that "the best way for America to establish its dominance" and "punch Putin" would be to "unleash the energy here in Pennsylvania and across the country."
Oz says he'd support Donald Trump for president in 2024
Asked whether he'd support a Donald Trump presidential run in 2024, Mehmet Oz said: “I’ll support whoever the Republican Party puts up."
When the moderator followed up to ask whether he'd support Trump for the presidency, Oz said: “I would support Donald Trump if he decided to run for president.” He dodged questions about Trump's various legal troubles, saying he wasn't paying close attention.
Fetterman, asked the same question about President Joe Biden, said it's up to Biden, and “if he does choose to run, I would absolutely support him.”
Fetterman pressed about past rejection of fracking
Fetterman said he has "always" supported fracking. Then he was confronted with a 2018 interview in which he said he "never" supported fracking.
"I’ve always supported fracking," he said. "And I always believe that independence with our energy is critical."
The moderator cut in, pointing to Fetterman's 2018 interview. "How do you square the two?"
Fetterman, pausing, merely said: "I do support fracking."
Oz declines to say whether he'd support bipartisan gun bill
Oz declined to say whether he’d have voted for the recent bipartisan gun bill, which retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey supported. He said there are “parts of that bill that I like a lot.” When the moderator followed up to asked how he would have voted, Oz didn't give a yes or no answer. "I would have tried to improve that bill," he said.
Meanwhile in Michigan: Whitmer, Dixon clash over abortion rights
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon met for their second and last debate before Election Day on Tuesday night, as well.
Abortion was a flashpoint as the state considers a ballot proposal to recognize a right to reproductive freedom, including abortion care.
Dixon, who called the proposal "radical," falsely suggested that Michigan's abortion ballot proposal "allows abortion up to the moment of birth for any reason, including sex selection.” The initiative would allow restrictions based on fetal viability.
Separately, Whitmer pressed her opponent on the issue of guns, saying that armed guards and a single point of entry at schools were insufficient to curb shootings and that red flag laws and secure storage are needed.
"Ask yourself who’s going to keep your kids safe," Whitmer said. "The former prosecutor with plans? Or the candidate with thoughts and prayers?"
Oz defends himself from criticism over unproven treatments
Oz defended himself Tuesday against criticism that he used his TV show to promote unproven or potentially dangerous treatments.
"One of the great blessings of traveling around Pennsylvania is you run into people who have watched the show. They thank me very much for giving them lifesaving advice on chronic issues like high blood pressure or dealing with their anxiety. The show did very well because it provided high-quality information that empowered people, which was exactly what I want to do when I'm a senator," Oz said, before he turned to attack Fetterman.
Asked whether he or his company made a profit from promoting the products, he said: "I never sold weight loss products as described in those commercials. It's a television show like this is a television show."
Fetterman won't commit to releasing medical records
Asked repeatedly whether he would release his full medical records, Fetterman declined to answer directly.
"My doctor believes I'm fit to serve," Fetterman said.
He spoke at some length about his recovery from a stroke in May, pointing to the size of the crowds at his events and noting that he is still using closed-captioning to understand questions.
He referred to the "real doctors" he listens to, a not-so-subtle jab at Oz, a doctor whom Fetterman has criticized for promoting supplements.
Oz in May audio: Abortion is 'murder' at any stage of pregnancy
The candidates engaged in a lengthy back and forth over abortion rights, with Oz repeatedly saying that he would not support federal restrictions and that the issue should be left to the states.
Back in May, while Oz was still fighting for the Republican nomination in a contested primary, he said abortion at any stage of pregnancy is “still murder” because he believes that life begins at conception, according to audio obtained by NBC News.
“I do believe life starts at conception, and I’ve said that multiple times,” Oz said at the time in a tele-town hall, adding: “If life starts at conception, why do you care what stage our hearts start beating at? It’s, you know, it’s still murder, if you were to terminate a child whether their heart’s beating or not.”
Oz says abortion access should be up to the states — not the federal government
Asked whether he supports abortion aside from cases of rape, incest or a life-threatening situation to the mother, Oz said that it should be up to states to decide how they handle abortion access and that the federal government should stay out of it.
“As a physician, I’ve been in the room when there’s some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all,” he added. "I want women, doctors, local political leaders letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves."
Oz said that as a senator, he would vote against any federal bill that tried to make abortion either legal or illegal nationwide, including one from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Fetterman and Oz battle over minimum wage
Fetterman and Oz had an extended exchange over the minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour in Pennsylvania, has not been increased since 2009 and trails the wages in each of its neighboring states.
Fetterman said he "absolutely" supports increasing the minimum wage to $15, adding that it's a "disgrace" the minimum wage remains $7.25 in the state.
Oz didn't commit to such a raise in the minimum wage, although he said he wants "the minimum wage to be as high as it can go." But he said that if it were too high, it would crush small-business owners.
Oz said Fetterman is "not really cognizant of the real challenges" business owners face.
Fetterman camp says it wanted the media to see captions up close
Just before the debate began, the Fetterman campaign said it asked Nexstar, the media group hosting the debate, to give the media access to the real-time closed captions being used during the debate.
Nexstar said no, said Joe Calvello, a campaign spokesman, for logistical reasons. It did agree to allow two reporters into the control room to view the captions in real time, Calvello said, but when the Oz campaign disagreed, the idea was squashed.
"Nexstar originally agreed to this, but the Oz team did not want the media to have any access, and so Nexstar said they would also not allow this request. To be clear: We wanted there to be a screen in the media tent that had the same captions that Oz and Fetterman would see onstage," Calvello said.
Oz is quick to hit Fetterman on crime
Oz opened up his remarks by saying he was running for Senate because “Washington keeps getting it wrong with extreme positions.”
Oz, who has attacked Fetterman for being soft on crime, said, “Fetterman takes everything to an extreme, and those extreme positions hurt us all.”
Oz said Maureen Faulkner, the widow of a Philadelphia police officer who was shot and killed in the 1980s and has been critical of Fetterman, accompanied him to the debate.
Fetterman calls Oz a liar and talks up stroke recovery
Fetterman was asked about his qualifications for office to open the debate. After he said he's "ready to serve," Fetterman said he wanted to talk about "the Oz rule."
"If he’s on TV, he’s lying. He did that during his career on his TV show," Fetterman said, adding that Oz has misled voters about his record and that Oz has "never let me forget" about the stroke he suffered.
"And I might miss some words during this debate," he said, adding, "This campaign is ... about fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania" who has ever been "knocked down."
And we're underway
The Fetterman v. Oz debate is underway after the moderator explained the format for this evening's contest, as well as the closed captioning system Fetterman's team requested after his stroke.
The first question goes to Fetterman.
Meanwhile in N.Y.: Hochul, Zeldin clash in feisty governor's debate
As the Pennsylvania Senate candidates get ready for debate, the New York gubernatorial debate is already well underway. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Lee Zeldin tangled Tuesday as the contest for governor of New York tightens in some recent polls.
Zeldin came out swinging, emphasizing the issue of crime, which is a top concern for many voters in the state. He promised to take additional steps, like removing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, if elected.
Hochul portrayed Zeldin as weak on crime for voting in Congress against the gun safety bill, and she attacked his votes to overturn the 2020 election, against the infrastructure bill and against the Inflation Reduction Act. “I know you’re an election denier — but also a climate change denier," she said.
Asked whether she favors any abortion limits, Hochul said the end of Roe v. Wade doesn't affect New York only “because I’m the governor of the state of New York and he’s not.” Zeldin declined to say whether he'd sign an abortion ban as governor, insisting there’s a “0% chance” the Legislature would send him such a bill.
Asked whether she wants Joe Biden to run for president in 2024, Hochul said: "Yes, I do."
Asked whether he wants Donald Trump to run for president in 2024, Zeldin didn't say. “Not even thinking about it,” he said.
Zeldin also stood by his votes on the night of Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the result of the 2020 election, which Biden won. “The vote was on two states: Pennsylvania and Arizona. The issue still remains today,” he said. “Election integrity should always matter.” He called for voter ID in New York.
Pennsylvania suburban women share what they want in Senate candidates
Oz says he supports Biden on marijuana pardons
Mehmet Oz opposes federal mandatory minimum prison sentences and thinks President Joe Biden made a “rational move” by announcing a broad pardon for certain marijuana users, Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, said this month in an exclusive interview with NBC News.
The remarks represent a slight tack to the center in the final days of a race in which Oz, who trails in public polling, has repeatedly attacked Democratic rival John Fetterman as being too soft on crime.
Oz said he supports Biden’s decision to clear the records of ex-convicts who were in federal prison solely on charges of simple marijuana possession, a rare area of agreement with Biden and Fetterman.
“Going to jail for marijuana is not a wise move for the country. I think folks who have used marijuana and that’s the only reason they’re in jail should not have those criminal — those rulings — held against them,” Oz said, crediting Biden with a “rational move.”
Polling shows tightening races in key swing states
Fetterman ‘has no work restrictions,’ but auditory processing issues continue, doctor says
John Fetterman's primary care physician said in a medical update last week that Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the Senate in Pennsylvania, “has no work restrictions and can work full duty in public office” after an assessment of his condition following his stroke in May.
Fetterman, who is Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, saw his doctor, Clifford Chen, a few days earlier. In a letter summarizing the visit released by Fetterman’s Senate campaign, Chen said Fetterman is “recovering well from his stroke and his health has continued to improve.”
“His lung exam was clear, heart rate was regular, and his strength was normal in all four extremities without any strength or coordination deficits. He spoke intelligently without cognitive deficits,” Chen wrote.
Chen also said Fetterman’s “speech was normal and he continues to exhibit symptoms of an auditory processing disorder which can come across as hearing difficulty.”
“Occasional words he will ‘miss’ which seems like he doesn’t hear the word but it is actually not processed properly,” Chen said. “His hearing of sound such as music is not affected. His communication is significantly improved compared to his first visit assisted by speech therapy which he has attended on a regular basis since the stroke.”
Debates also happening tonight in Colorado, Michigan and New York
Although much of the focus is on Pennsylvania tonight, several other states are holding debates, as well.
In Michigan, Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, will duel Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at 7 p.m. ET in their final debate before Election Day. Dixon came under fire this month after she mocked Whitmer for being the target of a kidnapping plot as she set in place public health measures to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul will face Republican challenger Lee Zeldin at 7 p.m. ET in their only debate before the Nov. 8 election.
In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican opponent Joe O’Dea will face off at 8 p.m. ET in the state's Senate race, followed by a gubernatorial debate between Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and Republican nominee Heidi Ganahl at 9 p.m. ET.
Pa. Senate independent candidate drops out, endorses Fetterman
Everett Stern, an independent write-in candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate race, announced Tuesday that he’s dropping out and endorsing Democrat John Fetterman.
In a brief phone interview, Stern pointed to a late-September survey by Fox News that showed him polling at 3% in the highly competitive race between Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. He said he fears playing “spoiler” if he siphons even a small share of votes from Fetterman.
“I want to make sure democracy doesn’t fail,” Stern said, adding that because former President Donald Trump and his allies “are backing Oz,” by staying in “I could inadvertently hurt democracy, and I believe Fetterman is the better man for it.”
He said his message to voters is “not to waste a vote on me.”
New Pa. poll shows very tight Senate race
A new AARP Pennsylvania poll released last week found Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz polling within the margin of error in the state’s Senate race, while Democrat Josh Shapiro leads Republican Doug Mastriano in the governor’s race, 53% to 42%.
AARP polled Pennsylvania in June, too, and while Shapiro’s lead has grown by 8 points since then, Fetterman’s lead has shrunk. In June, Fetterman was up by 6 points over Oz, 50% to 44%, and now he’s up by just 2 points, 48% to 46%.
Shapiro had the highest favorability rating in this month’s poll; 50% of those surveyed over age 18 have favorable views of him, while 33% have unfavorable views of him.
Fetterman also still leads in favorability, with 46% of those surveyed reporting favorable views of him and 45% of those surveyed reporting unfavorable views.
Thirty-seven percent of voters reported favorable views of Mastriano, while 47% reported unfavorable views. And 38% of those surveyed had favorable views of Oz, while 50% had unfavorable views of him.
Who are the candidates?
Democratic nominee John Fetterman is Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. He has focused much of his campaign on protecting abortion rights, increasing the minimum wage and ending the filibuster.
Republican nominee Mehmet Oz is a former cardiothoracic surgeon and TV host endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Oz has also attacked Democrats on inflation and expressed concern over "red flag" laws with regard to gun control, and he has said he supports states' making their own choices about abortion rights.
Fetterman and Oz are set to debate in Pennsylvania’s high-stakes Senate race
The biggest moment in perhaps the year’s most important election — one that could determine partisan control of the U.S. Senate — happens Tuesday night.
John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor, will face Republican Mehmet Oz, a celebrity TV doctor, in the only debate of the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.
The stakes are incredibly high. Fetterman’s polling leads over the summer have shrunk to statistical ties within the margin of error, following more than $35 million in GOP ads, many of which have painted him as soft on crime.
And, outside events he has held in recent weeks as he has assumed a more rigorous public schedule, it will be many voters’ first opportunity to see and hear Fetterman since he suffered a stroke just days before the May primary. Fetterman, who disclosed he faces speech and auditory processing struggles, common for patients recovering from strokes, has done few interviews since then.
Fetterman says his stroke recovery ‘changes everything’ but that he’s fit to serve as senator
John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee in the crucial Pennsylvania Senate race, still struggles to understand what he hears and to speak clearly following a stroke in May.
In an exclusive broadcast interview with NBC News recorded Friday at his home, Fetterman said both that his recovery “changes everything” and that it would not affect his ability to serve in the Senate if voters choose him over Republican Mehmet Oz.
“I don’t think it’s going to have an impact,” said Fetterman, who resumed his duties as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor in May but did not begin appearing at public campaign events until mid-August. “I feel like I’m gonna get better and better — every day. And by January, I’m going [to] be, you know, much better. And Dr. Oz is still going to be a fraud.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Fetterman discussed issues that have loomed large over the Pennsylvania race: abortion rights, crime and inflation, as well as how to tackle the opioid epidemic.
Can liberals win tough Senate races? Fetterman and Barnes hope to prove it
At stake in this year’s key Senate races is not just the balance of power between the parties, but within them. For the left flank of the Democratic Party, that means proving it can win when it matters most.
With progressive candidates Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and John Fetterman in Pennsylvania carrying the Democratic Party’s banner, liberals are excited about the possibility of proving the doubters in their own party wrong — and already dreading about what they might say if their candidates lose.
“Progressives do need to demonstrate that we can win [battleground] statewide elections and that our candidates can represent the party effectively,” said a progressive strategist, Max Berger, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign. “Until we’ve shown that we can do it, there will always be the question.”
Control of the Senate could very possibly come down to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and liberals see both opportunity and risk.
“Those are two big races for us, and we’ve got to do everything we can to win,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.