ERIE, Pa. ― U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman expressed gratitude to his supporters and the resolve to beat Republican rival Mehmet Oz at his first campaign rally after suffering a virtually fatal stroke in May.
The Pennsylvania Democrat, clad in a black hooded sweatshirt, rose to the lectern on the Erie convention center accompanied by his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, on Friday evening. The verses of ACDC’s “Back in Black” were barely audible over the roar of the 1,300-person crowd. The campaign said it had anticipated a turnout of about 500.
“Thanks a lot for being here tonight. Thanks a lot,” Fetterman declared. “Because really tonight for me, it’s about being grateful.”
At times choking up with emotion, Fetterman, who never prepares his speeches, kept his remarks to roughly 10 minutes.
The stroke had noticeably slowed his speech. At times he would deliver the primary three-quarters of a sentence with confidence after which pause before getting the previous couple of words out.
But Fetterman, who looked considerably thinner than he had before his medical event, hit a lot of the notes that Democrats have come to expect from their congressional candidates. He presented himself as a champion of abortion rights, union rights, a $15 minimum wage and an end to the Senate filibuster rules.
Perhaps most significant, Fetterman continued the beatdown he has been applying to Oz on social media and within the press for months while recovering. Fetterman, the present lieutenant governor and former mayor of the troubled steel town of Braddock, has painted Oz as an out-of-touch celebrity who moved to Pennsylvania from Latest Jersey in pursuit of vain political glory.
“He doesn’t live here. He’s not about us. He doesn’t care about us,” Fetterman said, the amount rising in his voice.
The Fetterman campaign decided to carry his comeback rally in town of Erie since the county where town is positioned is a swing-voting bellwether for the direction of the state as a complete.
Fetterman, who staked his primary run on the notion that Democrats needed to compete in every county within the state, pointed to his strong performance in Erie County in the first ― and Oz’s poor showing in his own intra-party contest ― as evidence that Erie would once more deliver for Democrats in November. As if to drive home the purpose, an enormous campaign logo with a map of Pennsylvania and the words “Every county, every vote” hung behind him as he spoke.
“You will deliver for us in November,” Fetterman said in concluding his speech. “That can deliver Pennsylvania for us. That can deliver the 51st [Democratic] vote within the Senate.”
“You will deliver for us in November. That can deliver Pennsylvania for us.”
– Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D)
The self-esteem of Fetterman’s campaign is that his appearance, speaking style and deal with economic fairness may also help Democrats compete in a state where the Democratic coalition has struggled to resist a long time of attrition from rural and blue-collar voters.
Fetterman’s origins are usually not as folksy as his towering height, bald pate, tattoos and casual attire might suggest. He’s the son of a wealthy insurance executive in central Pennsylvania who provided significant financial support for Fetterman and his family while Fetterman was running Braddock.
But Fetterman’s contempt for the normal fanfare of politics, reminiscent of schmoozing with political insiders and delivering soaring speeches, is real. And Oz, who indeed lived in an enormous mansion in Latest Jersey until running for Senate, provides an ideal foil for Fetterman.
Fetterman’s biggest obstacles are a national political environment that continues to be largely unfavorable to Democrats and the stroke that kept him off of the campaign trail for 3 months.
Fetterman suffered the stroke days before his blowout primary win in mid-May. He had not been feeling well while campaigning near Lancaster, and his wife urged him to go to the doctor. Had he been in a more distant region of the state, farther from a complicated medical facility, he won’t have survived.
Fetterman, who underwent surgery to insert a pacemaker the day of his primary victory, had for years ignored his doctor’s recommendations to take preventive medicine for a congenital heart condition and to hunt regular medical attention. He has promised to alter his behavior going forward.
Fetterman greets the group as his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, looks on. Gisele delivered introductory remarks that were a success with the group.
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
In response to Fetterman’s trolling, Oz has been taunting Fetterman for being absent on the campaign trail.
“Pennsylvanians know John Fetterman hasn’t shown as much as the campaign trail, but they won’t know that as Mayor of Braddock, he didn’t show up for work either,” Oz tweeted on Friday.
Democrats desperate to see Fetterman hold his polling lead over Oz, and Republicans in search of signs that Fetterman won’t ever quite regain his step, each will find material from which to attract in Friday’s rally.
Pauline and Dave Demarrall, retirees from Harbor Creek, were excited to see Fetterman speak and glad they got here. But Pauline lamented that the speech had felt a bit “generic.”
“I desired to hear about more policy stuff,” Dave concurred. Each of them nonetheless still think Fetterman is suitably healthy and can vote for him.
As Fetterman continues to get his rhetorical groove back, Gisele is more likely to be an asset to him on the campaign trail. Gisele, who filled in as keynote speaker in her husband’s absence on primary election night, spoke together with her characteristic humor and charm on Friday.
She introduced herself because the second lady of Pennsylvania, or “my favorite solution to say it: the SLOP.” But when she turned to introduce John, she got serious again.
“I’m thrilled to be here and to be introducing John Fetterman: my husband, your lieutenant governor, a stroke survivor and the following senator of Pennsylvania,” she said, prompting cheers from the group.