John Fetterman has been off the campaign trail since May. As Senate race with Oz heats up, he’s eyeing a full comeback


The fundraiser, sponsored by Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, does not represent a full reentry to the campaign — Fetterman aides tell CNN that will happen in the “coming weeks” with an event in western Pennsylvania — but it is the next step in the Democratic candidate’s slow return to reengaging with voters, with the fall election less than four months away.

Fetterman will face Dr. Mehmet Oz in November’s race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The race is one of the Democratic Party’s best chances to pick up a seat in the evenly divided Senate during what is expected to be a trying midterm election for President Joe Biden and the party in power. Democrats got a shot of good news recently when Fetterman’s campaign reported it had raised $11 million in the second quarter of the year, a number that dwarfed Oz’s $3.8 million raised and set off alarm bells in Republican circles. Oz aides have said the candidate will have all the money needed to defeat Fetterman.

“I would never be in this if we were not absolutely, 100% able to run fully and to win — and we believe that we are,” Fetterman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday, in his first interview since suffering the stroke. Later in the interview, he said, “Truthfully, my life is very normal, other than just not doing campaign events right now.”

Fetterman added that he had “no physical limits” and is “feeling really good,” but sometimes struggles with hearing and occasionally slurs two words together. Even still, he added, he is fully confident he has what it takes to run in the highly contested race.

Joe Calvello, a Fetterman spokesman, said the candidate is “getting better every day” is “excited to be in Philadelphia” for his upcoming fundraiser.

“He will be back on the trail here in the coming weeks,” he added. “Very soon.”

For Fetterman, though, “very soon” does not mean this week.

The high-profile Senate candidate will not attend a Biden event in Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. Biden is returning to his childhood roots to deliver remarks on the bipartisan legislation aimed at curbing gun violence. And Fetterman also will not attend a Biden fundraiser in Haverford later in the evening that will benefit the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, the party’s joint fundraising committee.

Fetterman’s time away from public campaigning has not meant he has been detached from the day-to-day management of his campaign. Calvello says that Fetterman “talks to his staff daily” and is often “brainstorming with department heads” and, most notably, has been active on social media in what has become the campaign’s incessant trolling of Oz and the fact that, until recently, he lived in neighboring New Jersey.

When Oz visited two cheesesteak spots in South Philadelphia, Fetterman tweeted that the visit was in line with what all tourists do in the city. Ahead of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, Fetterman retweeted a 2019 Oz tweet about a “big season” for the New York Yankees, adding that the New York team has a “famous fan cheering them on from Cliffside Park, NJ.” And Fetterman’s campaign recently released a trolling Cameo video from the Jersey Shore star Snooki — real name: Nicole Polizzi — that wished “Mehmet” luck with his decision to move “from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to look for a new job” and assured him that “Jersey will not forget you.”

All the while, Fetterman has been up with television ads, many of which brand Oz as “not one of us” and take issue with the fact that he moved to Pennsylvania to run for Senate.

Oz’s campaign, initially hampered by a trying GOP primary that went to a recount and a scattershot strategy of responding to a candidate who was off the campaign trail, has begun to rachet up its attacks on Fetterman.

In a video posted earlier this month, Oz notes that “Fetterman is back on the campaign trail” while lacing up his shoes to go on a run.

“I’ve been praying for him. I am glad he is OK. … Now that he is back, John Fetterman can’t keep hiding from voters forever,” Oz says as he jogs. “I am glad Fetterman is healthy so we can worry less about his heart and his hoddie and more about the crazy leftist ideas in his head.”

The campaign has begun to turn up the pressure on Fetterman to get back out in public.

“Dr. Oz has been busy campaigning across the state, meeting with voters, and attending both small dollar and high dollar fundraising events, but Fetterman refuses to campaign and meets with voters who are concerned about the disastrous Biden-Fetterman agenda,” Oz spokesperson Brittany Yanick said in a statement.

Yanick also responded to concerns about the Republican’s fundraising, saying, “Just like in the primary, Dr. Oz’s campaign will also have ample resources to get its message out.” Oz has contributed $3.2 million to his campaign in the last three months.

Fetterman’s return to the campaign trail has been slow, however, a pace that initially worried some top Democrats in Pennsylvania. People close to Fetterman made early promises of a quick recovery for the lieutenant governor, but those was dashed by the seriousness of his illness and gravity of his initial condition.

“I could have died,” Fetterman said in June about the significance of his stroke.

The candidate first dropped by a meeting of campaign volunteers in Pittsburgh earlier this month and later held virtual meetings with activists and political groups.

“We will be back out on the trail soon, we’re almost at 100 percent,” Fetterman said in an edited campaign video the day he dropped by the Democratic volunteer office in Pittsburgh. “It nearly, almost was, the end of my life, you know? It’s totally changed my life since then.”

That visit showed both the promise of his return and the serious steps still ahead in his rehabilitation, with his voice halting — yet stronger, aides say — than it was a month ago.

His surprise appearance brought a smile and sense of relief to Janice Gladden, a Democratic volunteer, who was sitting only a few feet away during Fetterman’s brief stop.

“It was great to see him,” Gladden told CNN. “He just looked so vibrant, like he really came through all of those difficult health problems.”

She said she’d been quietly wondering how Fetterman was doing, describing the Senate campaign with Oz a “vital race for the country.”

Democratic officials in Pennsylvania and in Washington have been closely monitoring Fetterman’s condition.

Fetterman has until August 15 to remove his name from the ballot and be replaced by another Democratic candidate, a plan that several party officials and campaign aides say is not under consideration.

Summer Lee, a Democratic state representative who is running for Congress, said she often sees Fetterman out walking as he continues to recover. She said she has no doubt he will make a full return.

“Obviously, the sooner we can get him back on the trail the better,” Lee told CNN. “But if we can get him back ready to go for the long haul, after Labor Day, I think he’ll be in good shape. I think we are going to be better for that patience.”

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