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Fetterman’s absence raises the stakes for Democrats in key Senate race

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Democrat John Fetterman posted a massive $11 million fundraiser in the second quarter. He made a publicity spree which earned him an almost constant presence on television in Pennsylvania. And he is attracting attention with sarcastic and irreverent posts on social media.

The only thing missing from one of the most competitive US Senate races this year is the candidate himself.

Fetterman, 52, has yet to resume campaigning in any meaningful way for a May 13 stroke required surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator and caused a revelation that he had a serious heart condition.

The commercials currently on the air were recorded before the stroke. He did not respond to questions from the press. And when Fetterman, dressed in a hoodie and shorts, made an appearance in the campaign, it was under controlled circumstances and without notice to reporters.

Democratic hopes of maintaining — or even expanding — their fragile Senate majority hinge on the party’s ability to grab the seat vacated by incumbent Republican Senator Pat Toomey. And with just two months before voters can start voting by mail, Fetterman is absent from the traditional retail campaign.

But in an otherwise anxiety-provoking election year for Democrats, party officials and activists in Pennsylvania say they no longer worry about Fetterman’s campaign and are repeatedly told he will be fine.

“The campaign told me that they think it will start coming out in mid-July,” said Joe Foster, who recently retired as party chairman in populous Montgomery County.

Fetterman’s campaign has provided few details about Fetterman’s health since early June, though it acknowledges he hasn’t fully recovered from the stroke and sometimes struggles to speak smoothly. But they have no intention of waiting for a full recovery and say Fetterman will be on the campaign trail soon.

The next step could be a fundraiser scheduled for July 21 with Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, was scheduled to speak there, though his campaign did not say whether the remarks will be delivered virtually or in person at the event in suburban Philadelphia.

The state’s deadline for a candidate to voluntarily drop out of the November general election ballot is Aug. 15 — what Democrats say is not up for discussion.

Meanwhile, Democrats are taking comfort in what they perceive to be a relatively calm campaign by Fetterman’s Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Since just winning the GOP nominationthe famed heart surgeon campaigned in some 40 – according to his campaign account – largely low-key affairs, such as appointments at businesses, restaurants and fairs.

He also made time to attend Michael Rubin’s party in Long Island’s posh Hamptons on July 4 and gave a keynote speech at the May annual meeting in Boca Raton, Florida for the Direct Selling Association. – a trade group for “multi-level marketing” companies like Amway.

Then there was the campaign video he recorded – at his sprawling home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, where he practiced medicine, filmed his daytime television show “The Dr. Oz Show” and lived for more than two decades before seeking the Pennsylvania Senate seat.

It played perfectly into the hands of the Fetterman campaign, who had previously attacked Oz as a fabulously wealthy New Jerseyan out of touch with ordinary Pennsylvanians.

“Pro tip: Do not film a commercial for your Palestinian Authority Senate campaign from your New Jersey mansion,” Fetterman’s campaign tweeted.

A currently airing Fetterman TV ad — recorded before his stroke in May — shows Fetterman calling the race a “fundamental choice” between him getting into politics to become mayor of Pennsylvania versus Oz who “just moved here. to stand for election.”

He refers to a report on Oz Financial Disclosure that his assets are worth at least $104 million and shows footage of Oz in February posing and kissing his new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“Hey, Doc Hollywood, save your money, Pennsylvania isn’t for sale,” Fetterman says.

Then, Fetterman flew a plane over weekend beachgoers on the Jersey Shore, trailing a sign that read, “HEY DR. OZ, WELCOME TO NJ! ♥ JOHN.”

In perhaps the biggest trolling to date, Fetterman’s campaign released a video on Thursday featuring Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi — star of the infamous MTV show “Jersey Shore” — telling Oz that she had heard that he had moved to Pennsylvania to look for a job and reassured him not to worry “because you’ll be back in Jersey soon. It’s only temporary, so good luck, you understood and Jersey love you.”

She then sent him a kiss.

Either way, Oz may have more important tasks than proving he’s a Pennsylvanian.

He is coming off a hotly contested primary campaign in which he absorbed more than $20 million in attack ads questioning his dedication to conservative principles on things like guns and abortion.

Even with former President Donald Trump’s endorsementOz endured three weeks of counting and recounting before declaring victory by less than 1,000 votes, or less than a tenth of a percentage point, over former hedge fund CEO David McCormick.

This has raised questions about whether Oz can unify Republicans ahead of the general election.

For now, Oz is centering its campaign on key GOP messages, particularly blaming rising inflation on President Joe Biden’s policies and trying to paint Fetterman as extreme.

Oz doesn’t currently air TV ads, but on Thursday he uploaded a 60-second campaign video that showed him jogging through a park and welcoming Fetterman to the campaign trail.

“I’m glad Fetterman is healthy,” Oz says, “so we can worry less about his heart and his hoodie and more about the crazy leftist ideas in his head.”

GOP officials say they’re confident in Oz’s ability to appeal to the moderates who are essential to victory in the swing state and Oz is getting help from Koch-backed grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity and the Republican National Senate Committee.

The NRSC also worked to raise questions in voters’ minds about Fetterman’s health.

Last week, he created a fake “Have you seen this person?” online poster, showing Fetterman’s face under this disturbing question and, in the biography, this information: “Last seen: 05/13/2022.”

It was the day of Fetterman’s stroke, just before a campaign event in Millersville.

Although largely out of public view, Fetterman continues to make fundraising appeals and hold meetings with campaign staff, according to a campaign spokesperson.

This week, Fetterman briefly participated in a volunteer Zoom call, his campaign said, and joined an hour-plus Zoom call with members of J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group, that included a Q&A session. -answers.

“He acknowledged that he was obviously on the road to recovery, but he certainly seemed fine, seemed to be in a good position to go into the event and was very excited about it,” the J spokesperson said. Street, Logan Bayroff.

He lives a relatively normal household life, doing chores like picking up his kids and running for groceries, going out to dinner and taking day trips to Erie and Johnstown and vacations to the Jersey Shore.

An avid walker, Fetterman does his miles, including nearly five miles on Tuesday, the campaign spokesperson said.

The campaign released edited video clips of Fetterman, including an impromptu appearance last Saturday at a volunteer training session where he briefly addressed volunteers in person.

“I feel so good, and we’ll be back on the track soon,” Fetterman told the volunteers, a bit hesitantly. “We’re almost 100 percent.”