Fetterman’s health and Dr. Oz’s authenticity: two candidates, two major questions

As the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania heads into the final stretch, major questions surround both Mehmet Oz’s and John Fetterman’s candidacies, and the people of Pennsylvania deserve honest answers. 

John Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock and Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, grapples with the fallout of a stroke he suffered in May. Throughout the summer, Fetterman has been careful about his public presence, almost always declining opportunities to speak to the media and hiding answers about his health. While he’s managed to remain somewhat under the radar in person, he’s still had moments where he is clearly not engaged and struggling to convey a clear message, often mixing up his words. Fetterman’s campaign has been coy about setting up a debate with Dr. Oz this fall, fearful that he would struggle in a long-form program where candidates are forced to produce memorable, clear, and concise statements. Currently, according to FiveThirtyEight, Fetterman has an 82% chance of winning the seat. A lot of the time, debates are opportunities for candidates who are behind in the polls to gain ground. They’re also seen as “banana peels” for the front runners who could be harmed by a gaffe or viral moment. While Fetterman is in the driver’s seat, he has little to no incentive to answer any of Dr. Oz’s calls for a debate. Fetterman should be faced with a debate before the general election in November, so voters can understand the scope and scale of his post-stroke condition. 

On the other hand, Mehmet Oz has continually struggled to solidify himself as both a serious candidate and the right person to represent Pennsylvania, seeing as his longtime home has been in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Dr. Oz is the stereotypical politician: an opportunistic, money and power driven man who will say one thing and do the other. A lot of the race has been fought on social media, with Fetterman constantly taking shots at Dr. Oz’s permanent residency, the unscrupulous nature of his candidacy, and his lack of understanding for working people and their problems. For instance, Dr. Oz posted a video at the grocery store criticizing the prices of produce, desperately trying to relate to the everyday problems of normal people. Alas, he still managed to mention he was there to prepare crudité, a French appetizer consisting of sliced raw vegetables that are dipped in a dressing, or, in other words… a veggie tray. That 30-second clip went viral, with Fetterman declaring that it shows the disconnect between Oz and the voters that he is vying to represent. 

There isn’t a clear path towards moving past this conundrum for Oz. The voters he must win in the most rural parts of the state will always relate to Fetterman, the lifelong Pennsylvanian, a lot more than they relate to Oz, the TV star and national celebrity. In fact, there is little Dr. Oz does that comes across as genuine; his attempts to connect with voters pale in comparison to Fetterman, the small town mayor who has been in the communities long before he asked for their vote. 

Students should care about these issues because states like Pennsylvania and who they elect dictate the greater political discussion around the country. For instance, almost every presidential election, people look to Pennsylvania as a bellwether for the country as a whole. While federal and state elections typically come down to the actual issues and the candidates’ stances on those issues, this race exceeds that. When voters make their decision as to who they would like to support, they then must ask themselves a second question, which will almost certainly be unsatisfactory for both candidates: “Who can I trust?”