Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman's campaign is looking to lower expectations ahead of Tuesday night's debate against Republican Mehmet Oz, telling members of the media that Fetterman is at a disadvantage because of the lingering effects of the stroke he suffered in May and Oz's experience as a television personality.
"We'll admit—this isn't John's format," Fetterman's campaign said in a memo sent to reporters on Monday. "Let's be clear about this match-up: Dr. Oz has been a professional TV personality for the last two decades."
The campaign's premature surrender ahead of Fetterman's first and only debate against Oz comes as the Democratic lieutenant governor's lead has narrowed in the polls. Fetterman has struggled to speak coherently in interviews since his stroke, and he requires closed-captioning technology to understand questions, raising concerns about his health and fitness for office.
"The TV studio is Oz's comfort zone," the Fetterman campaign said. "This guy is a media-savvy performer. … But remember: John did not get where he is by winning debates or being a polished speaker. He got here because he truly connects with Pennsylvanians."
Fetterman's campaign appeared to anticipate that video clips of the Democrat struggling to speak, of the sort that in recent weeks have raised alarm over his health, would go viral after the debate.
"We are prepared for Oz's allies and right-wing media to circulate malicious viral videos after the debate that try to paint John in a negative light because of awkward pauses, missing some words, and mushing other words together," the campaign said in the memo. "The captioning process may also lead to time delays and errors in the exchanges between the moderators and the candidates."
"John is going to win this race—even if he doesn't win the debate," the campaign concluded.