Days after John Fetterman tried to put questions about his health behind him by agreeing to debate his Republican opponent, it’s apparent that the strategy hasn’t put the issue to rest as he had hoped.
The Washington Post’s editorial board sharply criticized Fetterman in an op-ed published Monday, noting that the Pennsylvania Democrat’s recovery from a stroke he suffered in mid-May has been uneven in one of the most critical Senate races in the country this fall.
“Since returning to the campaign trail, Mr. Fetterman has been halting in his performances. He stammers, appears confused and keeps his remarks short. He has held no news conferences. Mr. Fetterman acknowledges his difficulties with auditory processing, which make it hard for him to respond quickly to what he’s hearing. He receives speech therapy – and we wish him a speedy, full recovery – but the lingering, unanswered questions about his health, underscored by his hesitation to debate, are unsettling. …
“… Mr. Fetterman is asking voters for a six-year contract without giving them enough information to make sound judgments about whether he’s up for such a demanding job. We have called for full disclosure of health records from candidates for federal office in both parties, including Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and we believe Mr. Fetterman should release his medical records for independent review.”
Which, well, oomph.
I have written that I thought Fetterman was smart to agree to a debate with Republican Mehmet Oz, as it was a necessity given the questions still swirling about his health in the wake of the stroke. My theory was that the issue wouldn’t go away by simply ignoring it – especially with Oz zeroing in on it – and it clearly beginning to gain traction with voters. And that the bar for Fetterman would be low; people understood he had experienced the stroke and that he was struggling with some auditory issues and would, generally speaking, give him the benefit of the doubt.
Which remains true – as far as it goes. But sometimes these things take on a life of their own – and it appears that the Fetterman health issue may be on the verge of doing so.
Now, one Washington Post op-ed isn’t going to fundamentally alter a) how voters in Pennsylvania see the issue, or b) how the Fetterman campaign deals with the issue. But there are regular reports from the campaign trail that note Fetterman is speaking for only brief periods of time and not taking questions from the media.
And, as the Post notes, the Fetterman campaign has done itself no favors by initially downplaying his condition – one that Fetterman himself had acknowledged almost killed him.
At its most basic, the choice for voters in any election is: “Can this person effectively do the job for which they are running?” Fetterman, it appears more clear with each passing day, hasn’t cleared that bar yet.
Will a single debate in October do the trick? That depends on what happens between now and then. If press attention to his performance on the campaign trail remains as high – and critical – as it is currently, a single debate (as the Post argues) may not be enough. If Fetterman shows improvement on the campaign trail, then maybe one debate could be enough to convince voters all is alright with him.
Here’s what we know as of right now: Fetterman has not put questions about his health behind him. Not by a long shot.