Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz speaks to attendees at a campaign event in Bristol, Pennsylvania, on April 21, 2022.
CNN  — 

Mehmet Oz had to know the question was coming. Which makes what he said even worse.

Oz, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, was asked about his views on abortion rights during a debate with Democrat John Fetterman – and whether he supported a federal ban on the procedure after the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“There should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” Oz said. “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.”

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  • Which, smart! In order for Oz to win statewide in Pennsylvania, he needs to keep it somewhat close in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where a federal abortion ban is generally not a popular notion.

    Unfortunately for Oz, he kept talking.

    “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,” he added.

    Which, um, not good.

    It’s not entirely clear to me what Oz was attempting to do here. He started by borrowing the language of the abortion rights movement that a decision regarding an abortion is between a woman and her doctor. And then, in a mind-boggling moment, he tacked on “local political leaders” as part of that decision-making process.

    What’s most bizarre about the whole formulation is that, as I noted above, Oz had to know the question was coming. Democrats – in Pennsylvania and around the country – have dedicated millions of dollars in TV ads to highlighting what they characterize as extreme positions staked out by Republicans on the abortion issue. There’s simply no way that in his debate prep, Oz didn’t ready a response.

    Unfortunately for him, if this was his ready response, then it amounted to a massive swing and miss. Democrats quickly criticized Oz’s “local leaders” idea, blasting him as deeply out of touch with women and the very personal decision they make when they opt to have an abortion.

    “Debates are more often lost than won, and Mehmet Oz lost this one with his line that abortion should be a decision between ‘a woman, her doctor, and local elected officials,’” tweeted Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala. “He is fueling the Dems’ top issue. @JohnFetterman must be pleased.”

    Fetterman released a new ad Wednesday morning highlighting Oz’s abortion comments.

    What remains to be seen is how Oz’s comment lands with voters – and how it fits into their overall perception of the debate.

    There’s no question that Fetterman, who had a stroke in May, struggled mightily to make his points throughout the proceedings. While his campaign has insisted that he is on the road to recovery and that his auditory processing issues are temporary, it was hard to watch the debate without seeing a candidate struggling badly to keep up.

    Does that concern over Fetterman’s ability to do the job wind up as the dominant story coming out of the debate? Or is it Oz’s huge gaffe on “local political leaders” being part of a discussion with a woman and her doctor about having an abortion?

    Be sure of this: Had Oz not made the abortion flub, the only story coming out of the debate last night would be Fetterman’s deeply uneven performance. Now, Oz is making his own headlines – and not in a good way.