Fetterman returns to the campaign trail, sort of. But is he up to it?

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Here’s our first quasi-live look at Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, the frontrunner in the polls, in nearly two months. Evidently the mounting speculation that he might no longer be physically or cognitively fit to continue the race following his stroke forced his team to send him out into the wild to prove otherwise.

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“The wild” in this case being a Democratic volunteer office in Pittsburgh where he knew he’d have a sympathetic audience and could control the environment entirely.

For the past month I’ve wondered what this line from a WaPo story published in early June meant, exactly: “His ability to have conversations rapidly has not fully recovered, though he is improving and doctors still predict a full recovery.” After watching this clip, now I understand.

The sense I get is that Fetterman is cognitively okay but struggling to articulate his thoughts fluently. It’s not just that he misses a beat (or several beats) towards the end, when he gets hung up while explaining how he “nearly” died. It’s that some of his formulations are awkward. “It’s incredibly special to be back here in a room with all of you, and that energy in the room…” he says at one point, before abruptly transitioning to the next sentence. Later he thanks the crowd for their work “to make sure that we bring Josh [Shapiro] and send me to D.C.”

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You know what he’s trying to say but he’s having difficulty expressing it elegantly, hence the trouble with “rapid conversations.” There’s a cut in the clip at one point too, leaving the viewer to wonder what was excised from the final edit.

If he doesn’t improve before fall, I assume his team will rule out any debates with Mehmet Oz. Maybe they’ll allow him to give scripted public speeches, although it’s anyone’s guess based on the evidence at hand whether that would solve his problem. Can he speak fluently while reading from a prepared text or is there now a hiccup in his mechanics under any circumstance, a la a stutter?

He sounds perfectly fine in this new ad, which was obviously recorded recently:

Granted, they might have needed 100 takes to get enough usable audio to produce a normal-sounding ad. But Fetterman’s inflections and sarcasm (“Okay”) are on point. Which, again, makes me think the problem isn’t with his cognition as much as with his articulation.

By the way, that ad is entirely representative of his developing strategy against Oz. Rather than hit him for being too right-wing — a dubious claim against a well-known RINO — Fetterman is going all-in on attacking Oz’s Pennsylvania authenticity. Which, as I said a few days ago, is a smart strategy and not just because authenticity is Fetterman’s great strength. (And an unusual one for a Democrat.) The more he can make the race a referendum on which of the two candidates is more “in touch” with the people of the state, the less voters will pay attention to the fact that Fetterman is, uh, radically left-wing. Unquestionably, Oz is a better fit ideologically for a purple state. But a better fit culturally? That’s the big guy, hands down.

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Exit quotation: “HEY DR. OZ, WELCOME HOME TO NJ! ❤ JOHN.”

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David Strom 4:30 PM | May 28, 2024
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