Lt. gov. Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate who has been off the campaign trail for more than two months after suffering a stroke in mid-May, this week told his hometown newspaper that he hopes to return to personal campaigns. “very soon,” although he acknowledged some lingering health effects.
“I would never be in this if we weren’t absolutely, 100 percent capable of fully running and winning — and we believe we are,” Mr Fetterman told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday, his first interview since he got sick.
Mr. Fetterman had a stroke days before the Democratic primary in May and had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted on the day of the primary. At the time, his campaign described the move as a standard procedure that would address “the underlying cause of his stroke, atrial fibrillation.” In early June, his campaign acknowledged that he also had a heart condition called cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure, and his doctor said he seemed to have left other heart problems untreated for years.
Mr Fetterman said he “nearly died” and vowed to focus on his recovery before returning to the trail.
Since then, his campaign has maintained an aggressive and high profile presence on social media and television, making his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, more at home in New Jersey than Pennsylvania. But the public has little of Mr. Fetterman seen, except for the occasional short video.
In the Post-Gazette interview, which was videotaped — and Mr Fetterman used captioning to make sure he didn’t miss any words, the paper said — the candidate said he walked four to five miles a day and participated in campaign strategy sessions. and is now increasingly attending fundraisers, with several scheduled for this week. He greet volunteers personally recently, and he also said he worked with a speech therapist.
“Maybe I occasionally miss a word in a conversation, or make two words of gunk. Even then, I don’t think that happens very often,” Mr. Fetterman told the paper. “So I feel like we’re ready to run.”
He emphasized that “physically speaking, I have no limits,” although he also acknowledged that “my hearing is still a little imperfect.”
Several people who recently attended a virtual fundraiser with Mr. Fetterman said they were encouraged to see him appear to be getting better, but also said he didn’t sound quite like he did before the stroke — as Mr. Fetterman has implicitly acknowledged.
“We saw a candidate that we all support, but who was still recovering,” said Phyllis Snyder, board member of J Street, the liberal Israel-focused organization. J Street Pennsylvania and the organization’s political wing were listed as hosting the fundraiser. “We hope it stays that way. But he was very involved.”
She added that Mr. Fetterman typically “speaks what’s on his mind. I’d say he was just a little more measured and careful.”
Other attendees said it was occasionally obvious when he reached for a word.
“I don’t think he’s quite back,” said Ed Feinstein, a Pittsburgh attorney who also attended the event. “But he was animated and he answered questions.”
“He seemed to have energy,” he added, “which worried me.”
Indeed, many Democrats in Pennsylvania have been secretly concerned about when Mr. Fetterman will return to appear in public. He has led a number of public opinion polls about Dr. Oz, who faces challenges with his own base. But Pennsylvania is a highly competitive state and could be the Democrats’ best shot at getting a seat.
Given the stakes of the election and the intense nature of holding a statewide contest, Mr Feinstein said, “I came away encouraged. But I’m still concerned.”
“A big part of his appeal is when you see him,” he continued. “He needs to go out and talk to people in small and larger groups. And that is debilitating, there is no doubt about it.”
In a statement, Mr Fetterman’s spokesman Joe Calvello said Mr Fetterman was “doing incredibly well for a man who suffered a stroke two months ago and is well on his way to a full recovery.”
He noted that Mr. Fetterman assessed his health himself and continued: ‘he will occasionally miss a word or spit out a word. This is all part of the recovery process.”
And he is certainly not the first politician to have a stroke or heart problems. Former Vice President Dick Cheney had a defibrillator implanted in 2001. He finished two terms in the White House, including running for reelection in 2004.
As a sign of accelerating activity, Mr. Fetterman will attend three personal fundraisers in Philadelphia on Thursday, confirmed Mr. Calvello.