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Fetterman Returns (Briefly) to Campaign Trail, Faces Barrage of GOP Criticism

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman returned to the campaign trail in Erie on Friday, three months after suffering a serious stroke that he acknowledged could have ended his life and has left him with lingering health problems.

Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, only addressed the enthusiastic crowd of supporters at the Bayside Convention Center for 11 minutes. He did not shy away from discussing his health issues.

“My life could have ended. It’s the truth. But I’m so grateful to be here tonight,” Fetterman told the crowd, his speech halting at times.

He also had plenty to say about his GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz. “There are a lot of differences between me and Dr. Oz. Who would have ever thought I’d be the normal one?”

Before that event, Fetterman granted his first post-recovery interview to KDKA TV in Pittsburgh, saying that he was “grateful” to have survived.

“That was a very grave situation at the time,” he told John Delano. “If it had happened at 1:00 in the morning, or if it would have happened in Elk County, I probably wouldn’t be here with you right now.”

Fetterman said his doctors okayed his return to the campaign trail.

“I have zero, no physical limits,” said the candidate. But he did admit he was having difficulties with “auditory processing,” which Delano called a hearing issue. And he also has some lingering problems with speech when he will “mush two words together,” Fetterman said in the interview. He plans to go to all 67 counties before the election.

Oz, who according to his campaign “has traveled over 3,000 miles, made over 140 campaign stops, and visited over 30 counties” since winning the primary, has spent three months mocking what they call Fetterman’s “basement campaign.”

“Despite news that John Fetterman is attending closed-door fundraisers, it has been 91 days since John Fetterman’s last public campaign event,” the Oz campaign emailed Thursday.

Oz has called on Fetterman to agree to five debates before the Nov. 8 election.

“Dr. Mehmet Oz has committed to participate in five moderated debates across Pennsylvania. Fetterman has agreed to zero debates, and he has hidden from reporters and voters for 90-plus days because he doesn’t want to answer for his radical views. The people of Pennsylvania deserve to hear from their candidates, and it’s time that Fetterman answers the tough questions,” said Rachel Tripp, senior communications advisor.

Fetterman’s campaign did not respond when asked whether he plans to debate Oz.

A recent Fox News poll showed Fetterman with an 11-point lead over Oz, 47-36 percent.

However, Republican consultant Charlie Gerow says he believes Oz can still win if he tailors his message to what voters are talking about and stops the daily social media jibs that “make people laugh inside campaign headquarters.”

Oz should “talk about gas prices and grocery prices,” said Gerow. “And the fact that you can’t get things you’re looking for at the store from baby formula to feminine products to food. I mean, that’s what people are concerned about when they wake up in the morning. Not with how many days John Fetterman has been off the campaign trail.”

“I want to make it clear, I think (Oz) can win,” said Gerow. “But he’s got to hone his message and be focused like a laser beam on what voters are talking about and thinking about.”

The Republican National Committee welcomed Fetterman back to the campaign trail with a barrage of criticism. It cited Fetterman’s policies, including supporting Democrats’ $1.9 trillion ‘stimulus’ that fueled inflation.

“Now, in the middle of a recession, Fetterman supports the ‘Bidenflation Scam,’ a bill which will shrink the economykill thousands of jobsimpose crushing taxes on families and businesses, and worsen – not reduce – inflation,” the RNC claimed.

Additionally, Fetterman signed a pledge to ban fracking. He said, “I don’t support fracking at all and I never have,” calling it a “stain” on Pennsylvania.”

The RNC also slammed Fetterman for depending on his parents for support well into adulthood.

“While claiming to understand the plights of everyday Pennsylvanians, Fetterman was living off of his parents’ money well into his 40s after attending Harvard University and buying a condo from his sister for $1.”

The group also panned his record as the chair of the state Board of Pardons where he  appointed Celeste Trusty, who has advocated for disarming the police and abolishing “mandatory life without parole as a sentence for first- and second-degree murder.” Pennsylvania sheriffs have voiced concern about his soft-on-crime record and the Pennsylvania FOP chose to endorse Oz over Fetterman, the RNC said.

“If John Fetterman truly understood the plight of Pennsylvania workers and families, he’d be adamantly opposed to his party weaponizing the IRS. Does Fetterman support deploying 87,000 additional IRS agents for the purpose of auditing everyday Americans? Pennsylvanians definitely do not,” said RNC spokesperson Sean Shute.

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Fetterman’s Foes Attack Him on For Shotgun Incident

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman was acting like “f—ing Batman” when he brandished a shotgun at an unarmed Black jogger in 2013, one of his opponents, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said.

The incident happened when Fetterman was mayor of Braddock, a majority Black borough where he served for 13 years.

Fetterman said he saw the man running away after hearing what he believed were gunshots, a claim backed up by two witnesses who also reported hearing gunfire, according to a police report. He chased down the man and detained him until police arrived. Police said in their report they arrived and found Fetterman’s truck parked in the middle of the roadway.

He was holding a black shotgun in his hands and continued screaming at cops that he knew that the jogger “was shooting.” The man was searched for weapons but he was unarmed.

The shotgun-toting episode has received renewed attention from state and national media as Fetterman’s profile has risen in recent months since he announced his candidacy for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat. Now firmly the Democratic frontrunner, with a sizeable campaign war chest, Fetterman has spent the last few weeks fending off attacks from Kenyatta and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb ahead of the May 17 primary.

PA state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia)

Kenyatta, who has fallen far behind Fetterman in recent polls, returned to the incident during both televised debates. At one point, given a chance to ask opponents a question, Kenyatta urged the hulking lieutenant governor to own his mistake and apologize to the jogger, Christopher Miyares.

In an interview with Delaware Valley Journal this week, Kenyatta ratcheted up his attacks on Fetterman, drawing comparisons between his actions and that of three men who were convicted of chasing down and fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery with a shotgun as he jogged through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga. in February 2020.

He said that while he did not believe Fetterman to be a racist, his actions still constituted an “act of gun violence.”

“I don’t think the parallels stop at Ahmaud Aubery,” Kenyatta said. “You can also look at Trayvon Martin. You can look at Kyle Rittenhouse – people who feel like they can be vigilantes. I mean, John is not f–ing Batman. There’s no way you can look at his behavior and say this is appropriate. … He has to model a basic level of leadership. A part of leadership is owning up to mistakes. … What he did was wrong. He knows it was wrong.”

Kenyatta was not holding his breath about Fetterman apologizing because “any type of accountability” for him feels “like persecution.”

“Powerful men like John are used to having to play by a different set of rules,” Kenyatta said at the debate. “He wasn’t held accountable because he was the mayor, and he’s trying not to be held accountable now.”

For his part, Fetterman did not offer a mea culpa at the debate, instead suggesting it wasn’t a big deal in the minds of majority-Black voters in Braddock who re-elected him. And his camp did not respond to DVJ’s emailed request for comment.

Kenyatta pointed out at the debate that Fetterman won re-election with only 186 votes.

“I’m not sure why you’d want to diminish a small marginalized Black community,” Fetterman shot back.

Even some of the most ardent of Fetterman’s supporters believe it would be good for him to apologize for the incident.

“People never let us forget our mistakes, even if you’re a lieutenant governor,” said Alim Howell, an activist with Race for Peace who spoke supportively of Fetterman. “I think it was just a family protection instinct. But I think he should apologize. We all have to apologize at some point for our actions.”

The activist said it would have been better for Fetterman to let the police handle the situation rather than intervening.

But two legal experts who spoke to the Delaware Valley Journal said the then-mayor’s actions appeared justified despite his opponents’ attempt to paint him as a vigilante and Fetterman’s own seemingly incriminating interview with a local news outlet that his actions that day may have run afoul of state law.

It can be a crime to point a gun at somebody in the state of Pennsylvania, but prominent defense attorney Charles Peruto Jr. said Fetterman was protected from prosecution because he was acting in an official capacity.

“As the mayor of Braddock, he is also in charge of the police department. He is ostensibly the highest law enforcement agent in town,” Peruto said. “He can hold the guy in custody for investigative purposes.”

Fetterman’s camp started using the term “chief law enforcement officer” last year to rebut suggestions from opponents like Kenyatta who accused him of acting like a vigilante, NBC News reported.

The Pennsylvania Association of Borough Mayors describes the duties of mayors in its handbook as “to preserve order in the borough, enforce the ordinances and resolutions, remove nuisances, exact a faithful performance of the duties of the officers appointed and perform such other duties assigned by law or ordinance.”

Former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said the law doesn’t punish people for “making mistakes of fact.”

“It punishes people for making intentional or reckless decisions that are objectively criminal or so obviously ‘bad’ as to be unreasonable under the circumstances known to the actor at the time. … My opinion is that there was no crime on its face,” he said.

The man at the other end of the shotgun, Miyares wrote to The Philadelphia Inquirer while serving a prison sentence for kidnapping, terrorist threats and unlawful restraint, among other crimes.

In letters, he claimed Fetterman “lied about everything” when he denied pointing the shotgun at his chest and claimed he did not initially know his race.

But Miyares said he did not believe the incident should keep the lieutenant governor from holding higher office.

“It is inhumane to believe one mistake should define a man’s life,” Miyares said. “I hope he gets to be a senator.”

Still, Democrats fear that any act of contrition from Fetterman at this point may ring hollow and won’t be enough to assuage the concerns of Black voters come the November general election..

“I don’t believe he can appeal to swing voters,” Lamb said at the debate.

Kenyatta, in the interview, encouraged his political rival to “sit with how his actions feel to Black and Brown Americans who have seen situations like this go in a different way.”

“This is telling us a lot about who John Fetterman is, and I’m not sure it’s telling us anything good,” Kenyatta said.

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