Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat, will next week hold his first public campaign event since having a stroke that nearly killed him four days before the May primary.
Fetterman will hold a rally Friday, Aug. 12, in Erie County, marking the first public event his campaign has hosted in nearly three months.
The former mayor of Braddock has been slowly inching his way back onto the campaign trail, appearing last month at a private fund-raiser in Wynnewood hosted by Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. He spoke for about 25 minutes, according to attendees.
He is also scheduled to attend a fund-raiser with donors from Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood on Tuesday, according to organizers.
But it remains to be seen how frequently or extensively Fetterman will be able to campaign after the event.
Fetterman, 52, was hospitalized for nine days after his stroke and was outfitted with a pacemaker and defibrillator. His campaign said through a family doctor that Fetterman has cardiomyopathy, a weakened-heart condition, and atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm.
His Republican rival, physician Mehmet Oz, has made dozens of campaign stops in the time Fetterman has been out of the public eye, and he has repeatedly attacked Fetterman for his physical absence on the trail. He’s posted about it on social media on a near-daily basis, including on Friday morning, when he shared a photo of a cardboard cutout of Fetterman and wrote “Live look at a Fetterman campaign event!”
The Oz campaign released a daily “basement tracker” during Fetterman’s absence, echoing the words that former President Donald Trump used against President Joe Biden in 2020, and on Friday launched a website that refers to Fetterman as a “basement bum.” A depiction shows the Democratic nominee’s face superimposed onto a man who is shirtless and wearing only underwear. The website urges voters to text the campaign the word “LAZY” to receive updates.
Oz said in an interview Friday that he’s “over the moon” that Fetterman is returning to the campaign trail in person.
“It’s hard to dance by yourself. It takes two to tango,” Oz said, “and I’d love to have him out there talking about what he wants to do about inflation, the cost of energy, crime in our cities.”
Fetterman’s campaign has pushed back against the notion he’s been absent, saying the lieutenant governor is working behind the scenes. But with the exception of the private fund-raiser and a brief surprise visit with volunteers, he has largely stayed out of view.
Next week’s rally will be the first chance since the primary for journalists to see Fetterman in person and pose questions. He has not faced the media since May, aside from one interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The trip to Erie comes as the U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania passes the 100-day mark ahead of the November general election. The outcome of the closely watched race will help determine control of the upper chamber.
Fetterman’s choice to host his first campaign event in Erie is something of a continuation of his primary election campaign strategy of focusing attention on sometimes lesser-visited parts of the state — in this case an important swing county — as opposed to Democratic strongholds.
In a statement, he called Erie “Pennsylvania’s most important bellwether county.” Trump won the county in 2016, but it flipped in 2020 when voters there backed Biden.
Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.