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Fetterman hopes support for abortion and good economic news will carry him in close election

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks at Temple University in Philadelphia, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.
Ryan Collerd
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks at Temple University in Philadelphia, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

As the election enters its final week, John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, is trying to turn attention away from a halting debate performance last weekby attacking his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz.

In an interview conducted by video using closed captioning, Fetterman told WESA that he believes Oz should renounce his support for Republican candidate for governor, Doug Mastriano.

“I would never stand on…the stage with somebody like Doug Mastriano,” Fetterman said. Oz and Mastriano are scheduled to appear alongside former President Donald Trump at a rally in Latrobe on Saturday.

Oz, who supports Mastriano in the race for governor, has said he would leave the decision about abortion to state lawmakers. But Fetterman says that Oz, in effect, is backing Mastriano’s proposed attempts to ban abortions in Pennsylvania starting at six weeks of pregnancy.

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For his part, Fetterman says he backs Roe v. Wade, which allowed abortion until viability outside the womb, generally about 24 weeks into a pregnancy, but didn’t explain why he thinks that is a better standard than prominent Republican proposals to ban it at six or 15 weeks.

“And I think the choice between women and their doctors is really...what's right,” he said. “And I would support...eliminating the filibuster and making it the law of [the] nation.”

Fetterman also accused Mastriano of antisemitism. Mastriano advertised on the website Gab, which is rife with antisemitic commentary, before pulling his support after the controversy. Mastriano has since accepted a donation from the founder of Gab, who advocates for a Christian nationalist agenda that doesn’t include Jews. Mastriano’s opponent, Democrat Josh Shapiro, is Jewish.

Oz, who barely won his party’s nomination in May with President Trump's endorsement, has a difficult balancing act. He needs to enlist the enthusiasm of ardent Trump supporters, most of whom will vote for Mastriano, without alienating fiscally conservative suburban women who voted against Trump in 2020. Some Republican voters have said they were skeptical of Oz’s previous more liberal positions on issues like fracking.

Oz’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple interview requests this week or multiple other interview requests since September.

Oz and Mastriano’s campaigns have, at times, been at odds. In an Oct. 10 interview on Facebook, Mastriano undermined Oz’s message about crime in Pennsylvania by saying the governor, not the U.S. Senate, will have the biggest effect on crime in the state. And in recent weeks, Oz’s campaign shared a video on Twitter of a voter in Pittsburgh who said she plans to split her ticket and vote for Oz for senator and Mastriano’s Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, for governor.

Despite a halting debate performance, Fetterman said he would be able to vote in the Senate on the issues that matter to Pennsylvanians. “It wasn't … the easiest night. And we just kind of moved on …from that,” he told WESA in one of his first interviews after the debate. “And I do believe that we are fit to serve.”

Fetterman has released letters from his cardiologist and primary care doctor, who both say he is healthy enough to serve. Fetterman has resisted releasing his full medical records, including information from his neurologist that experts say could paint a fuller picture of how he’s doing.

Oz has resisted direct attacks on Fetterman’s health in recent weeks, even as prominent Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey, have questioned Fetterman’s fitness for office.

Election Day: Nov. 8, 2022

Instead, Oz continues to use his TV ads, largely paid for with millions of dollars in loans to his campaign, to attack Fetterman’s support for the early release of prisoners as lieutenant governor and chair of the Board of Pardons.

Gun violence continues to be a growing concern in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where homicide rates are rising. Last week,two gunmen shot six people at a funeral in Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh’s Mayor Ed Gainey hasadvocated for more efforts to control the flow of guns.

Fetterman attacked Oz for not supporting restrictions on gun purchases and background checks that he says would not infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.

Fetterman has stood by his record on crime, which was low when he was mayor of Braddock, and continues to advocate for releasing elderly prisoners in Pennsylvania, even those who have committed violent crimes. He says he spoke with President Biden over Labor Day weekend and took partial credit when Biden pardoned thousands of individuals with nonviolent marijuana offenses.

Although voters say inflation is one of their most important issues, neither Fetterman nor Oz has spoken much about the efforts of the Federal Reserve, which has a dual mandate to maximize employment and keep inflation in check. But Fetterman told WESA that he supports the Fed’s efforts to tackle inflation with higher interest rates but didn’t address the potential economic effects. Unemployment levels in Pennsylvania and the country remain low.

Fetterman hopes the relatively strong economic growth data that came out last week and falling gas prices, will help his campaign as voters head to the polls. “As President Biden said, that the Republicans are…cheering for a recession, and we're not in a recession,” he said.

Fetterman said he believes the race will be close, something with which both candidates have experience: Fetterman won his first election as mayor of Braddock by a single vote, and Oz won his primary campaign onlyafter a statewide recount.

“I also do promise to trust the result, whatever that is,” he said. “The [election] system in Pennsylvania is safe and secure and true.”

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.