Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz again tried to distance himself from the mocking tone his campaign has taken with his Democratic opponent John Fetterman’s recovery from a near fatal stroke, telling NBC in an interview Friday that he would not talk to his own patients the way his campaign talked about the Democratic Senate nominee.
Oz has tried to walk a fine line between being the television doctor that is meant to have compassion for people dealing with health issues and the Republican candidate at a time when campaigns are mimicking former President Donald Trump’s no-holds-barred approach to politics.
Pennsylvania’s Senate contests is one of the most closely watched in the country, representing the best chance for Democrats to flip a Senate seat in November. Polls show a tightening race, with Oz closing the polling gap Fetterman opened over the summer. A CNN Poll of Polls average now shows Fetterman with the support of 50% of likely voters compared with 45% for Oz.
While Oz has personally expressed empathy for Fetterman’s May stroke and his months long recovery, one campaign aide said in August that Fetterman may not have had a stroke if he “had ever eaten a vegetable in his life,” another aide defended that statement by suggesting Fetterman couldn’t stand for more than 10 minutes and, in a mocking effort to get Fetterman to agree to a debate, the Oz campaign offered to “pay for any additional medical personnel he might need to have on standby.”
Asked directly whether Oz would speak to his own patients the way his campaign spoke about Fetterman, the Republican directly said, “No.”
This is not the first time Oz has tried to distance himself from the people he pays to communicate his message to the public, even brazenly saying those people may not speak for him.
“I can only speak to what I’m saying,” Oz said in a radio interview in late August.
“I have tremendous compassion for what John Fetterman is going through,” Oz said in the NBC interview with Dasha Burns. “Not only do I, as a doctor, appreciate the challenge, but I know this specific ailment because it is a specialty area of mine.”
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Before running for Senate or hosting a nationally syndicated television show, Oz was regarded as a talented and driven cardiothoracic surgeon who regularly treated people with strokes.
Oz said he “accepted responsibility” for the way his campaign has talked about Fetterman’s health and that he has dealt “with issues as they come up.”
“But he has his own set of issues,” said Oz. “We should have had a debate already.”
Oz has tied to focus his critique of Fetterman’s health on transparency, urging the Democrat to release more medical information.
“When people ask me questions, and they often do, about his health condition, you know what I say, Dasha? I have no idea,” Oz said.
Fetterman has so far declined to release more than a June letter his doctor released attesting he was fit enough to run for Senate.
“I would say that if there is anything that changed, I absolutely would have updated that,” Fetterman said this week. “Other than the progress that I have made is evident.”
Fetterman spent two months off the campaign trail after his May stroke. When he returned, his speech was at times halting and he often smushed words together – something the Democrat himself acknowledged. Fetterman’s speech, however, has improved in recent months and he has picked up his campaign schedule. As he has since he returned to the campaign trail, the candidate continues to use closed captioning in interviews.
Oz and Fetterman have agreed to one debate in the key Senate contest – an October 25 meeting hosted by Nexstar Television.