Fetterman supporters undeterred by stroke as Obama does last-minute campaign: ‘John’s stroke did not change who he is’


Most people who attended Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman’s rally with former president Barack Obama in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania seemed unbothered by his stroke recovery despite Democrats raising concerns after his debate.

The Democratic nominee is locked in a tight race with television physician Mehmet Oz in the Keystone State. The rally at Schenley Plaza across the street from the University of Pittsburgh had a massive line.

The rally was the first of two events for Mr Fetterman and Mr Obama. Later in the day, they will head to Philadelphia with President Joe Biden and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Mr Fetterman easily beat his opponents in the Democratic primary in May. But right before then, he suffered a stroke, and is still in the process of recovering. Mr Fetterman still struggles with auditory processing and as a result, uses closed captioning. After his interview with NBC News last month, many in the press questioned whether voters would be comfortable voting for him when he needed such accommodations.

Similarly, he used captioning during his first and only debate with Dr Oz. Many Democrats fretted about Mr Fetterman’s performance, where he occasionally struggled to offer answers to questions, had delayed responses or mushed together words.

Late last month, a hot mic caught Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer telling Mr Biden that “the debate didn’t hurt us too much in Pennsylvania.”

But Mr Fetterman seemed undeterred by concerns about his recovery on Saturday.

“Here’s a pro-tip: If you’re going to give a speech after you’ve been recovering from a stroke, you really don’t want to have to come after Barack Obama as the GOAT,” he said, in reference to the acronym for “the greatest of all time.”

Polling is decidedly mixed about how much Mr Fetterman’s performance in the debate affected their vote. According to Monmouth University’s poll released this week, only three per cent of voters said that Mr Fetterman’s performance affected their vote. In addition, 62 per cent of voters in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed Mr Fetterman with a lead but also showed that 7 per cent of voters said they would have voted for him if he had not had the stroke.

Meanwhile an Emerson College poll showed that half of voters said that the debate performance worsened their opinion of Mr Fetterman and a Fox News poll showed that 51 per cent of registered voters said the Fetterman-Oz debate was a factor in their final decision.

On the ground, however, many voters were undeterred. When asked about whether Mr Fetterman’s stroke would impact her vote, Shawnna Crago, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said: “I think my thoughts are, anytime anybody has a stroke, it definitely takes time to heal. It’s a process that doesn’t actually affect anybody’s intellectual capacity.”

Ms Crago’s colleague, Tina Geyer, added that she thinks “it would make him a better advocate for ADA compliance,” in reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

During the rally, Mr Fetterman also highlighted his own push to get better.

“This is what recovery looks like,” he said. “In January, I’m going to be much better in DC.”

Throughout his speech, Mr Fetterman was interrupted by cheers and connected his experiences with other people.

“We need to expand health care, the exact same health care that saved my life,” he said.

Mr Obama alluded to Mr Fetterman’s ongoing recovery during the rally and said that it showed that he knew what it was like to struggle.

“John’s stroke did not change who he is, it did not change what he cares about, it did’t change his values, his heart, his fight” Mr Obama said at the rally. “It didn’t change who he will represent when he gets to the United States Senate. He’ll represent you, and that’s what you deserve.”

Helen Fallon, a professor of journalism at Point Park University, told The Independent at the rally that she was optimistic about Mr Fetterman’s recovery.

After the rally, Mary Pat Donegan told The Independent that she suffered four strokes and faced challenges speaking like he did.

“In time, really, within about a year, I was able to recover and I believe he will too,” she said. “And it’s difficult. I’m amazed at the recovery he’s made.”

The rally with Mr Obama and Mr Fetterman came hours before Mr Trump and Dr Oz were set to hold a rally with Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, in nearby Latrobe.