Pennsylvania Senate: Fetterman commits to debating Oz two weeks before Election Day
But even with Fetterman now offering more specifics, a new subsequent back-and-forth between the campaigns over debate preparation and the length of the event has created new doubts.
In response to Fetterman’s announcement, the Oz campaign said they would “accept the debate invitation” if the Democrat agreed to three conditions tied to what they described as Fetterman’s own requests: that closed-captioning be used during the debate and he be given two opportunities to “practice” using the system onstage (and off-air) ahead of time.
Oz asked for stipulations that a moderator tell the audience at the beginning of the debate about the closed-caption system; that any practice questions for Fetterman “bear zero resemblance to the actual (debate) questions”; and that the length of the meeting be extended from 60 to 90 minutes because, they said, the format could cause delays.
The Fetterman campaign, in a subsequent statement, said Oz mischaracterized their plans for pre-debate “walk-throughs,” a standard practice, and dismissed the suggestion it was a bid to rehearse his answers. They also rejected Oz’s request for the debate to be extended by 30 minutes, citing a previously held agreement with the host.
Fetterman’s team agreed to have the moderators explain that the Democrat was using a closed-caption system, adding, “John has been open and honest about his lingering issues with auditory processing.”
Replying to the Oz camp’s demands, Rebecca Katz, Fetterman’s senior adviser, accused the Republican of cynically prolonging the campaigns’ debate over debates.
“Let’s be real: If we agreed to 10 debates, Oz would be demanding 20,” Katz said. “He’s going to keep trying to move the goalposts, because this is his only play.”
After Fetterman initially announced he intended to debate Oz, questions lingered over when he might offer to make good on that promise. His speech remains hindered in the aftermath of a stroke that he said nearly killed him, but Fetterman and his campaign insist that his “auditory processing” issues are part of the recovery process and will improve with time.
“This is not about health, this is about honesty,” Oz said. “It’s either John Fetterman is physically capable of debating and is not debating because he doesn’t want to own the statements that he’s made, the radical left statements that he’s made about so many issues, or he’s lying about his health.”
In their announcement earlier Wednesday, Fetterman’s team touted the October 25 debate, which will be hosted by Nexstar and broadcast across a wide range of affiliates statewide, noting that Oz had previously committed to taking part.
“We said from the start that we’d do a debate, which John reiterated very clearly again last week. Enough distractions, it’s time to talk about the issues,” Katz said.
CNN’s Michael Warren contributed to this report.