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Fetterman Says Stroke Problems Have Not Slowed Down a ‘Normal’ Campaign


4 months after suffering a stroke he described as a “near-death experience,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania acknowledges lingering problems together with his speech and hearing that sometimes cause verbal miscues. He has relied on closed captions or the assistance of staff members to smooth his interactions with voters and reporters as he runs for Senate.

But in one in every of his most extensive interviews because the stroke in May, Mr. Fetterman said he was fully able to handling the trials of a campaign which will determine the balance of power within the U.S. Senate. He described driving his children to high school, walking several miles a day and rapidly improving his auditory processing — while also lacing into his opponent, the celebrity television physician Mehmet Oz, who trails within the polls and whose campaign has mocked Mr. Fetterman’s health challenges.

“I’m running a superbly normal campaign,” Mr. Fetterman said in a 40-minute interview with The Latest York Times, conducted by video on Tuesday. He added at one other point, “I keep recovering and higher, and I’m living a superbly normal life.”

Indeed, Mr. Fetterman’s campaign has seemed increasingly normal in some ways.

The candidate, whose personality-driven political style has inspired an unusual degree of fandom for a Senate hopeful, speaks at raucous rallies, jokes about his opponent at private fund-raisers and makes occasional news media appearances. His onetime Democratic rivals have moved to point out a united front with their party’s nominee. Several Democratic officials who’ve interacted with Mr. Fetterman closely also said recently that they were encouraged by his progress. On Wednesday, he committed to debating Dr. Oz late next month.

Yet in other respects, clashes over health and transparency have shaped the competition to a remarkable degree, fueled by attacks from the Trump-backed Dr. Oz and Republicans promoting out-of-context clips of Mr. Fetterman — and by the realities of Mr. Fetterman’s personal situation.

He suffered a stroke on the Friday before the May primary election, though he waited until Sunday to reveal it. On Primary Day, he had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, which his campaign described on the time as a normal procedure that will help address “the underlying explanation for his stroke, atrial fibrillation.” In an announcement in June, his doctor said he also had a serious heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

In Tuesday’s interview, Mr. Fetterman said, “Now we have never been hiding any of the health issues.”

Those issues have plainly shaped how Mr. Fetterman campaigns now. He has not tended to take questions from the news media at his events, in contrast to his approach right before his stroke. He remains to be using closed captioning to conduct video conversations, as he did within the interview on Tuesday. And in some appearances during the last month, he jumbled a number of words, an issue he has acknowledged.

At a Labor Day event last week, he needed to restart an occasional sentence, and he promised to “champion the union lifestyle in Jersey — excuse me, in D.C.,” after he sought to solid Dr. Oz as more comfortable in Latest Jersey, his longtime principal residence, than in Pennsylvania.

For in-person appearances, Mr. Fetterman has sometimes relied on staff members to repeat questions he has trouble hearing over background noise.

Many citizens appear untroubled: A CBS News/YouGov poll released this week found that 59 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters surveyed believed Mr. Fetterman was healthy enough to serve.

On Wednesday, his campaign said he had taken neurocognitive tests, mentioning two: the Saint Louis University Mental Status Examination, administered on July 14, and the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status, or RBANS, taken on Wednesday morning. The campaign said his rating on the St. Louis test was 28 out of 30. That rating is typical for individuals with no less than a highschool education.

His rating on the RBANS was inside the traditional range for his age, in line with his campaign.

Stroke patients often undergo many neurocognitive tests, including transient ones administered by speech therapists and hourslong cognitive evaluations, said Dr. Lee Schwamm, a stroke expert at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Schwamm found Mr. Fetterman’s scores reassuring but added that they “don’t preclude the chance that his performance is lower than it may need been before his stroke.”

But, Dr. Schwamm said, the emphasis on Mr. Fetterman’s cognitive tests plays into what he sees as a bias against individuals who have had strokes. “It’s playing on the fear that a stroke made him vulnerable, weak, incapable of leadership,” he said. “Judge the guy on his merits.”

Mr. Fetterman’s campaign said he continued to take all of the medications he was prescribed, including the blood thinner rivaroxaban. The campaign also said he had exhibited no stroke symptoms or bleeding because the stroke.

Mr. Fetterman’s campaign didn’t make his doctors available for interviews, and efforts to succeed in them independently were unsuccessful. Dr. Ramesh Chandra of Alliance Cardiology signed the June letter about Mr. Fetterman’s heart condition. Dr. Chandra’s office said health privacy laws prohibited him from discussing patients without their permission.

Mr. Fetterman returned to the campaign trail last month with a splashy rally in Erie, Pa. He has held various big campaign events since, including a big one on Sunday, when, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “he stumbled over only a few words compared with previous speeches.”

By his campaign’s count, he has held greater than two dozen fund-raisers since his stroke, conducted dozens of political meetings each in person and over video, and held or attended various public events. Even in appearances when he has halting moments, he can come across as high-energy, sometimes adopting the cadence of a stand-up comic to tear into Dr. Oz. He has also used his personal health challenges to bond with voters, asking at events for a show of hands from those that have experienced health problems of their families.

“Who has someone, perhaps personally, yourself, has ever had an enormous, major health challenge? OK, all right, how about any of your parents?” Mr. Fetterman said on Sunday. “I’m so sorry. I mean, I actually have. And I hope, I actually hope for every one in every of you, you didn’t have a physician in your life making fun of it.”

Asked for comment, Barney Keller, an Oz campaign consultant, said that the Fetterman campaign “hasn’t been transparent in any respect about his health challenges.”

Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat who attended the rally and a fund-raiser with Mr. Fetterman on Sunday, said he had strong exchanges on the private event.

“There have been no closed captions,” Ms. Scanlon said. “He fielded questions and had a humorousness and was entirely what one would hope for for the following senator from Pennsylvania.”

The problem of Mr. Fetterman’s health intensified in recent weeks as Dr. Oz used the matter of debate participation to query Mr. Fetterman’s fitness to serve. Mr. Fetterman’s campaign said Wednesday that he would debate on Oct. 25, two weeks before Election Day, noting that it had held conversations with several TV stations to find out methods to accommodate his lingering auditory challenges.

Shanin Specter, a Philadelphia lawyer and son of the late Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said in an interview some voters might regard one debate as insufficient.

“The recent indication of agreement to 1 debate in late October could also be seen by voters as too little and too late, especially for many who vote by mail,” said Mr. Specter, who donates to candidates in each parties. He said at one other point, “He hasn’t done much campaigning. The film of that which he’s done has been unreassuring. The drip, drip lack of forthrightness about his problems has been corrosive.”

Mr. Specter said he supported the Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, but was not involved within the Senate race.

Should he win, Mr. Fetterman, 53, can be far younger than many leaders in Washington, including President Biden (79), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (82) and a number of octogenarian U.S. senators, a few of whom have faced scrutiny over their mental acuity.

“The goal posts for John keep moving. John is already healthier and more articulate than about 80 percent of the Senate, and he’s recovering day by day,” said Rebecca Katz, a senior adviser to the Fetterman campaign.

Senator Ben Ray Luján, a Latest Mexico Democrat who suffered a stroke earlier this yr, has been in contact with Mr. Fetterman since his illness and said he had little doubt that Mr. Fetterman could handle the demands of the office.

“If anyone desires to see what a stroke survivor looks like, they will just take a take a look at me,” the senator said, noting his participation in an all-night voting session. “He’s strong. He’s working. He’s connecting with constituents. He’s going to maintain doing that.”

Mr. Fetterman, for his part, suggested the health scare had given him a latest perspective.

“I needed to be faced with the concept this might have ended my life when I even have three young children,” he said. “That’s 10 times harder than anything that I’m having, coping with, right away.”

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