Fetterman’s Heart Issues Add Wild Card to Key Pennsylvania Senate Race

In a fight between a Paul Bunyan-like common man and a celebrity doctor, the doctor might emerge as the responsible candidate. And Dr. Oz will know how to sell it, said Samantha Majic, a political scientist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who studies style and celebrity in politics.

“Celebrity in the modern sense is somebody who is known, highly produced, managed and in the media, but they are also commercialized, they are using their celebrity to sell,” Professor Majic said. She added: “As campaigns become more expensive, you’ve got to have celebrity capital to parlay into financial capital. You have to stand out.”

Among Democrats and many independents in Pennsylvania, Mr. Fetterman is popular. A poll from Franklin & Marshall College just before the primary — and before his stroke — found that 67 percent of Democratic voters viewed him favorably, well above the 46 percent who felt warmly toward his primary opponent, Representative Conor Lamb.

Berwood A. Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall, said that given the Democratic nominee’s 52 years of age, his health problems “may make Fetterman even more relatable.”You get to your 50s as a working-class person, and you’ve got some scars to show for it, right?” he said. “It’s a further contrast between the two candidates. I mean, the contrast couldn’t be any more stark.”

And a comeback from a health setback is not uncommon. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent whose progressive politics are similar to Mr. Fetterman’s, suffered a heart attack in late 2019, with the presidential primary season looming, and hardly skipped a beat.

But Mr. Fetterman will remain off the campaign trail for some time.

“Doctors have told me I need to continue to rest, eat healthy, exercise and focus on my recovery, and that’s exactly what I’m doing,” he said in his statement. He added: “It’s frustrating — all the more so because this is my own fault — but bear with me, I need a little more time. I’m not quite back to 100 percent yet, but I’m getting closer every day.”

Rebecca Katz, a strategist for Mr. Fetterman, strongly denied that the campaign had been keeping his condition hidden. Campaign officials announced he needed a pacemaker as soon as they learned it, and the campaign released Friday’s statement as soon as the doctor gave his permission, she said. Democratic officials had grown so worried that there was chatter about recruiting a new nominee, gossip that she pushed back on hard.

(With inputs from NYTimes)

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