Fetterman commits to debating Oz two weeks before Election Day

Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman acknowledges supporters at a campaign rally at the Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell on September 11, 2022.

CNN  — 

Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman committed Wednesday to meeting Republican opponent Mehmet Oz for a debate on October 25 – two weeks before Election Day.

Fetterman, the commonwealth’s lieutenant governor, is recovering from a May stroke and has come under pressure from the Oz campaign for refusing to debate or take reporters’ questions at news conferences. Last week, the Democrat announced his intent to debate Oz but did not specify a date or time.

Even after Fetterman said he intended to debate Oz, questions lingered over when he might offer to make good on that promise. Fetterman’s speech remains hindered in the aftermath of a stroke that he said nearly killed him, but he and his campaign have insisted that his “auditory processing” issues are part of the recovery process and will improve with time.

Oz has seized on Fetterman’s previous refusal to offer specifics on whether, and when, he would be willing to go one-on-one with the Republican nominee. Last week, Oz was joined by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey at a news conference in which they ramped up the attacks, accusing Fetterman of either exaggerating his health issues in order to avoid a debate stage cross-examination or being physically unfit to serve.

“This is not about health, this is about honesty,” Oz said. “It’s either John Fetterman is physically capable of debating and is not debating because he doesn’t want to own the statements that he’s made, the radical left statements that he’s made about so many issues, or he’s lying about his health.”

Fetterman’s commitment to a single debate date is unlikely to satisfy the Oz campaign, which has said that, with mail ballots going out soon, many voters will be making decisions without having seen the pair onstage together.

CNN has reached out to the Oz campaign for a response.

The Pennsylvania Senate seat is a top pickup opportunity for Democrats, who are defending their slim majority in the chamber this fall. It is one of the five states that flipped from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Fetterman’s announcement comes as debate participation has become a point of contention between some campaigns nationwide. In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, have agreed to at least one debate after weeks of sparring between the campaigns over televised debates.

In North Carolina’s open Senate race, the campaigns of Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd remain in talks about when to hold a televised debate. And in Ohio, home to another open-seat Senate contest, tense negotiations between the campaigns of Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance remain unresolved. Similar stalemates exist in Senate and gubernatorial races across the country.

In his announcement Wednesday, Fetterman touted the October 25 debate, which will be hosted by Nexstar and broadcast across a wide range of affiliates statewide, noting that Oz had previously committed to taking part.

“We said from the start that we’d do a debate, which John reiterated very clearly again last week. Enough distractions, it’s time to talk about the issues,” Rebecca Katz, senior adviser to the Fetterman campaign, said in a statement.