ERIE, PA — Reserved by two large American flags scattered across the wall behind him, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman took the stage Friday night for his first rally of his Senate bid of 2022 — and his first public campaign stop. since he had a stroke in Can.
But amid his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz’s attacks on his absence from the trail — and insistence that Fetterman hid in a basement for the summer months while recovering from a stroke — Fetterman didn’t shy away from the subject when he spoke with the crowd Friday night. spoke.
In fact, he led with it.
Introduced by his wife, Gisele, who had acclaimed fans of her own, she called him a “stroke survivor” and thanked the crowd for welcoming her husband to the trail. Barely missing a beat, Fetterman stepped up to the mic and took Oz’s rhetoric squarely.
“Are we in Erie, or did I fit 1,400 people in my basement?” he joked. According to the campaign, the final attendance was 1,355.
The hopeful Senate went on to sum up his stroke experience and became visibly emotional as he told the story of his wife getting wind of his stroke before it was too late. “Gisele saved my life,” he said, adding that he was grateful that it happened near a well-equipped health care facility, in an apparent touchstone for his stance on approving access to quality health care across the country.
“I’m just so grateful. And I’m so lucky. So thank you for being here tonight,” he said.
Fetterman’s comeback on the campaign trail marks a major turning point in the race. Predicted to be one of the most competitive races this cycle, Democrats need every advantage they can get in Pennsylvania, including valuable face time with voters. Pennsylvania is also being targeted by National Democrats as one of their top picks — potentially adding to their number in the Senate, or simply preventing Democrats from losing the majority.
Although Fetterman suffered some setback for not being completely transparent about the nature of his stroke from the start, no love seemed to be lost with his base on Friday.
“He’s been extremely open and candid… Things happen to human bodies. A lot has happened to both of us and we’re walking in here,” Erie resident Jane Asher told The Daily Beast, gesturing to her partner.
The crowd, queuing to get in, was filled with Fetterman’s black-and-white campaign signs on cardboard. Campaign crews provided rally-goers with yellow-and-black rags imprinted with the name “Fetterman” to wave in the air — like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ signature “Terrible Towels.” Classic rock blared over the speakers into the Bayfront Convention Center, a venue near the edge of Lake Erie.
Fetterman looked exactly like when he left the campaign trial three months ago, wearing his signature hoodie and wide-leg pants.
The hopeful Democratic Senate didn’t mince words in explaining why Erie County was his choice for its first-ever campaign rally of the Senate cycle. Erie has long been a political whistleblower for Pennsylvania and sums up everything Fetterman’s campaign hopes to highlight this cycle.
It is a working class part of the state that does not vote Democrat by default. It fits right into his model of “every province, every vote” — a slogan he used to argue that Democrats should focus as many votes in scarlet areas as they do in their metropolitan safe havens.
“If you can’t win Erie County, you can’t win Pennsylvania,” Fetterman told the crowd.
Only about 10 minutes on stage before shaking hands and taking selfies, Fetterman had another important topic on the agenda: Oz.
Like his Twitter feed, which has turned into a steady stream of shitposts on the Republican hopefuls, Fetterman dished out snappy one-liners about the telly doctor, asking the crowd, “Do you think Dr. Oz could fill a room like this? ?”
The audience answered resoundingly by shouting “No.”
Asked for comment, Oz’s campaign said Fetterman “refuses to be honest with the Pennsylvanians or the press about his radical policies and his history as a no-show for the commonwealth.”
“Meanwhile, Dr. Mehmet Oz campaigns across the commonwealth, listens and shares the concerns of the people he meets, and stands up for Pennsylvanians unlike John Fetterman. Pennsylvanians now deserve answers from Fetterman. It’s been way too long,” said Brittany Yanick, Oz communications director.
Fetterman also called the press, suggesting they should do a fact check on how many mansions Oz owns. (It’s hard to tell exactly how many) mansions Oz owns, but Oz did report $100 million in assets in his campaign filing.)
John Whaley, another Erie resident, told The Daily Beast he’s going to vote in front of Fetterman versus simply voting against Oz. But Whaley added that he suspects some people are voting “just to keep Oz out”.
“And MAGA maniacs, and ultra MAGA,” Whaley added, “we don’t need any of that.”
Mike Kurutz, another Erie Democrat, told The Daily Beast that he doesn’t think politics needs another “entertainer,” wondering if someone like Carrot Top could be next.
The Oz Campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Fetterman’s performance Friday night — and Fetterman did not answer questions from reporters during the event.