Stroke of Genius: Fetterman Defeats Oz In Pennsylvania Senate Race

Democrat suffered cognitive impairments after near-fatal stroke

John Fetterman takes a selfie. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
November 9, 2022

Democrat John Fetterman narrowly defeated Republican challenger Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's hotly contested Senate race, flipping a seat held by the outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey into Democratic hands.

Fetterman led Oz by just over 1 percentage point with 89 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning. His victory comes after his campaign was derailed in May, when the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor suffered a stroke that kept him off the campaign trail and left him dependent on a teleprompter to process words.

Those limitations were on display when Fetterman addressed the crowd gathered at his victory party in Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning. Fetterman thanked his wife, Gisele, who immigrated to the United States illegally, for saving his life by recognizing the signs of his near-fatal stroke while "walking out of a Sheetz bathroom" just six months ago. The race centered on the issues of crime, abortion, and the economy, with Oz working to portray Fetterman as a radical who had, in his capacity serving on Pennsylvania's board of pardons, worked to put hardened criminals back on the streets.

Fetterman’s health status was, as he has said, the campaign’s "elephant in the room." He was slow to return to the campaign trail following the May 13 stroke and struggled to speak fluidly, most vividly during his first and only debate with Oz on Oct. 25. Fetterman, who opened the debate with "Hello, goodnight everybody," struggled to explain his position on hot-button issues like fracking and abortion. He also refused to release detailed medical records, saying that he had provided "transparency" about his condition by merely showing up for the debate.

Polls taken after the debate suggested Fetterman’s performance could be an inflection point in the campaign. One survey conducted the day after the debate showed Oz leading Fetterman for the first time. Undecided voters in the survey said they were leaning towards Oz by a 64-36 margin.

For his part, Fetterman placed heavy bets on the abortion issue, riding a wave of Democratic momentum following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. He seized on Oz’s statement in their debate that the decision about abortions should be made between "a woman, her doctor, and local leaders."

While Fetterman frequently derided Oz’s celebrity status, the Democrat cashed in down the home stretch on his wide base of support from Hollywood liberals. Fetterman touted endorsements last week from singer John Legend, actress Kerry Washington, and Oprah Winfrey. He called in political celebrities to stump for him down the home stretch, hosting an event over the weekend with President Obama. Biden was also in attendance.

This post was originally published at 1:51 a.m.