PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Tuesday night was supposed to be the first face-to-face showdown in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race. Instead, Dr. Mehmet Oz came to Philadelphia and criticized Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman for refusing to debate him.
It's a sign that political season is here, and it also may signal a recognition that Oz's internal polling closely mirrors the public polls, which show him trailing Fetterman by an average of five points. Those may be the two primary factors why Oz is on the attack.
Oz was joined by the retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, both men issuing the usual talking points, calling Fetterman a socialist and linking him to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but the main point they wanted to get across was Fetterman won't debate Oz.
"Those are the opening statements if you would have heard from me if John Fetterman had not ducked out of tonight's debate," Oz said, "the first of five debates offered to us by major media companies that my campaign has accepted."
The duo was relentless.
"It could be that he just doesn't want his radical record to be scrutinized," Toomey said.
"Or he's too sick to participate in a debate," Oz said.
On May 13 of this year, Fetterman suffered a stroke that he says nearly killed him. Nearly three months to the day of the stroke in mid-August, Fetterman finally returned to the campaign trail. He says he feels great, however, he does occasionally misspeak. His campaign issued this response to the Oz-Toomey presser.
"Anyone who's seen John speak knows that while he's still recovering, he's more capable of fighting for Pennsylvania than Dr. Oz will ever be and anyone who's seen Dr. Oz speak knows he's a complete fraud. We have said repeatedly that we are open to debating Oz and we're talking with networks, but let's be clear. This isn't about debates. This is about mocking John for having a stroke."
Eyewitness News spoke to Rutgers-Camden associate professor of political science Kelly Dittmer about the back and forth.
"Candidates who are losing or trailing us those opportunities not only to get press but also to put their opponents on a spot," Dittmer said, "and hopefully shake up the race in a way that gives them an opening toward a lead."
She adds that voters may be understanding of Fetterman's health battles, but that eventually, he may have to prove he is OK and debate.
"If it gets to be longer and longer down the line and he's unwilling to do this or respond clearly about some dates, then I think voters start to question it as well," Dittmer said. "So his campaign has to be thinking about giving some firm answers, some firm dates."
Oz meanwhile, himself a physician, says the stroke is not the issue.
"This is not about health," Oz said. "This is about honesty."
September is generally seen as a little early for debates, but Oz has also agreed to a debate scheduled for Oct. 5, a month before Election Day. Fetterman has yet to confirm his attendance.
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