HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Dr. Mehmet Oz is taking a harsher tone in his attacks on health Democrat John Fetterman in their Pennsylvania Senate race, and the famed heart surgeon’s campaign said that if the state’s lieutenant governor “had eaten a vegetable at some point in his life, he might not have had a massive stroke.”
And in a phone call with The Associated Press on Wednesday, an aide to the Republican candidate questioned whether Fetterman was “too ill to debate” — a suggestion Fetterman’s campaign rejected as Oz pushes for a Sept. 6 televised debate.
Increasingly acrimonious and personal thorns are emerging as Oz trails Fetterman in the polls in a November matchup that could help decide control of the Senate. Democrats see the race in favor of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey as one of the best chances to win the seat in the country.
Fetterman’s last song high-profile Oz trolling on social media focused on Oz’s efforts to draw attention to the country’s high inflation by buying “crudités” — raw vegetables sliced and served as snacks — in a state where cities pride themselves on cheesesteaks and pierogies, potato dumplings.
Oz’s heightened statements about Fetterman’s health may reflect the Democrat’s vulnerability as he recovers from a stroke a few days before primaries on May 17. Party officials were initially concerned about Fetterman’s disappearance from the campaign for nearly three months while he was on the mend. But they insist they’re confident he’s fully capable of running – and Fetterman says he won’t be in the race if he failed to campaign and win.
Oz, the former host of the daytime TV show “The Dr. Oz Show,” claimed Fetterman was in hiding, refusing to participate in debates and giving only two media interviews since the stroke.
Fetterman and his company say Oz’s camp went too far, blaming Fetterman himself for the stroke.
“I had a stroke. I survived him. I am truly very grateful to still be here today,” Fetterman said on Twitter. “I know politics can be nasty, but even then I can never (asterisk) imagine making fun of someone for having a health problem.”
Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello said Fetterman is healthy enough to debate, walks 5 to 6 miles a day and was honest about his recoverysaying he is working with a therapist to address some hearing and speech issues.
Oz campaign adviser Barney Keller said Oz and his team were just giving Fetterman “good health advice” to eat his vegetables.
As for the proposed televised debate in Pittsburgh, Fetterman’s campaign said Oz could not dictate the terms of the debate’s schedule.
Keller said Oz has done nothing of the sort, and Oz’s campaign may conclude that Fetterman is not being honest about how much the stroke has affected him.
“Either he’s healthy enough to discuss and should discuss, or he’s not healthy enough to discuss and he should say so,” Keller said. But, he added, “Why lie about it? Why keep lying about how sick he is?”
Fetterman’s public schedule has been relatively light, although he spoke for four minutes at a steelworkers’ union rally in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Oz’s campaign statement about Fetterman’s diet tries to play into the narrative that the Democrat is not being transparent about his health.
“If John Fetterman had ever eaten vegetables in his life, maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t have had to constantly lie about it,” Oz’s campaign said.
This was in response to Fetterman’s latest trolling on social media, which took advantage of a video in which Oz tries to highlight rising inflation by pointing to the high prices of ingredients for making “crudités.”
Fetterman took to social media to tell Oz that “in Pennsylvania we call it … a vegetable tray,” a rebuke that criticizes Oz for two narratives favored by Fetterman’s campaign: that Oz is very rich and untouchable, and that Oz really from New Jersey, not Pennsylvania.
Fetterman’s company said it raised more than $1 million in its campaign to poke fun at Oz’s “crudités” video.