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County Hall Corner: Our Seriously Surreal Senate Race

2022 is known as a midterm election year. Midterm elections are quite different from any other because they include a wide variety of political races — local offices, of course, as well as races for state offices and US Representative and Senate seats. This vast field results in the national media featuring a race here

2022 is known as a midterm election year. Midterm elections are quite different from any other because they include a wide variety of political races — local offices, of course, as well as races for state offices and US Representative and Senate seats. This vast field results in the national media featuring a race here or there but rarely focuses on any one race unless it has some very special significance. Thus, it is noteworthy that out of the 34 United States Senate election campaigns going on throughout the United States, from New York to California, it is Pennsylvania’s race that has gotten more attention than any other in the country.

The matchup is between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. The campaign has been ugly from the start as both men have baggage, and each has been hammering their opponents hard. In fact, it is very difficult to know what each one of these candidates actually stands for because almost all of the campaign advertising is focused on what is wrong with the other guy.

Mehmet Oz is a Turkish-American television personality and retired cardiothoracic surgeon. He is best known for his 13-season run of the “Dr. Oz Show,” a daily television program about medical matters and health. In the Republican primary, Oz had a very tight race against David McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO, and it was probably Donald Trump’s endorsement of Oz that pushed him over the line. Oz identifies himself as a ‘moderate’ Republican, a strong supporter of gun rights, of school choice and charter schools, and stands against abortion, citing that he was “relieved” by the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade. His ‘moderate’ path is where he sees the threat of climate change and the need to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

John Fetterman has been in politics for most of the 21st century, serving as mayor of Braddock, PA, from 2005 until becoming lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania under Governor Tom Wolf in 2019. Unlike Oz, he was far and away the strongest candidate for the Democratic Party and won their primary, carrying every single county in the state. He strongly supports the progressive Democratic agenda; abortion rights, criminal justice reforms (specifically advocating for more clemency of criminals), opposing fracking, and restrictions on gun ownership.

As noted above, this race has got national attention because it has featured a TV star, Dr. Oz, but also because of Fetterman’s unexpected stroke in May of this year. Fetterman has obviously been impacted based on his long absence from the campaign trail, and his appearances display that he is not the same man he was before. This has caused his initial double-digit lead in the polls against Oz to dwindle to presently becoming an almost dead-even race.

Ideally, this race should be judged on the merits of each man’s position on the issues. I have heard both men up front and personal, and I believe they are sincere in their convictions. It should be a straight shot for Pennsylvanians; if your convictions are on the progressive side, Fetterman is your man, and likewise, if they are conservative, Oz will represent you well.

And yet, it is very hard to ignore the health issues of the Democratic candidate. A New York Post article on Fetterman noted, “At the events, he has attended, his halting, sometimes confused, remarks have caused concern. At his most recent event on Sept. 11, a Planned Parenthood ‘Women for Fetterman’ rally, he struggled to finish his thoughts. He fumbled his words as he bashed his opponent, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, for making fun of his health issues.”

I actually have sympathy for John Fetterman, for, like him, I was also recently diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation that required me to receive an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator), a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted in my chest. The difference between John Fetterman and myself is that when I was diagnosed, I immediately had the medical procedure done. Based on a recent article on Politico.com, Fetterman was diagnosed in 2017. According to his cardiologist, Ramesh Chandra, he did not take any of his medications or guidelines she prescribed and did not see Dr. Chandra again until June of this year, which was after his stroke.

This helps explain why both sides are running mostly negative campaigns. The Republicans are highlighting Fetterman’s physical problems to raise questions about whether he will be effective or even able to serve his term. The Democrats must play a diversion game so they will highlight Oz’s short residency in Pennsylvania and lack of political experience.

All eyes are on Pennsylvania on this one because the outgoing Senator Pat Toomey is a Republican and the balance of the Senate is currently 50/50. A Democratic victory could keep the US Senate under Democratic control. The polls show the voters of our Commonwealth have been going back and forth. It is hard to tell what the outcome will be. But if there is one lesson in all this, if your doctor tells you to have a serious heart condition, don’t wait five years till you have a stroke to do something about it.