The campaign of Lt. gov. John Fetterman released his first general election television commercials on Tuesday, touting him as a candidate without traditional designations who would campaign for Pennsylvania in the US Senate.
But voters may not see Fetterman in person for some time.
Fetterman, who suffered a stroke on May 13 and has since disappeared from public view, may not be able to get back on track until July, his wife Gisele said in an interview with CNN published Tuesday.
“That would be my hope,” Gisele Fetterman said when asked if Fetterman would be campaigning again next month.
Campaign spokesman Joe Calvello told The Inquirer on Tuesday that Fetterman would be back on track “in the coming weeks.”
“He’s getting better every day. He walks daily, runs errands, picks up his kids from school, and makes calls and meetings with staff,” Calvello said. “Doctors have told him he needs to remain focused on his recovery and he is doing just that.”
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Fetterman spent nine days in the hospital following his stroke. He was fitted with a pacemaker and defibrillator and has been recovering at home in Braddock since his release. His campaign initially said he had atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm, and later revealed through a family doctor that Fetterman also has cardiomyopathy, a condition of the weakened heart.
Meanwhile, Fetterman has not made any public appearances or interviews apart from brief social media clips. Fetterman’s doctor and the campaign have said he will make a full recovery, which is an ongoing process. Tuesday’s campaign did not deny reports that Fetterman’s ability to conduct conversations quickly has not fully recovered.
“John is three weeks away from a stroke and he’s getting better every day, but like I said, John isn’t 100% yet,” Calvello said.
In Fetterman’s absence, the campaign has issued a series of endorsements and debuted the TV ad this week, a $300,000 purchase that will air in the Johnstown, Pittsburgh and Scranton media markets over the next week. The ads will be broadcast on radio and cable, including Fox News.
“We’re confident about where our campaign is,” Calvello said. “We are about five months away from the general election. John will have plenty of time to campaign and speak to voters.”
Democratic strategist Mike Mikus, who led Katie McGinty’s 2016 Senate campaign, doubts a summer month without a campaign will make a difference to voters.
“It’s June. … It’s not like voters expect candidates to walk around their district, and frankly, most voters don’t care,” he said. “If today were Labor Day, that would be worrying.”
Mikus said that this phase of the campaign is more about raising funds and putting together a general campaign staff.
“Senate campaigns aren’t what they used to be. You do campaign changes, but you don’t necessarily campaign every day,” he said. “A lot of these are fundraisers, and since COVID it’s not uncommon to have virtual fundraisers.”
The campaign, along with Fetterman’s cardiologist, have said he is expected to make a full recovery.
But the campaign has released few details about Fetterman’s health other than last week’s doctor’s statement. And the campaign has declined interviews with his doctors or Fetterman.
The letter was the first time the campaign had learned of the cardiomyopathy, Calvello said.
“The campaign released the letter from John’s doctor last week, right after the doctor saw John, which was the first time we’d heard the term,” he said.
Calvello said the campaign asked Lancaster General to release more information.
“We have asked for a letter from the hospital many times and have not yet received one,” he said.
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While some news has indicated unease among some Pennsylvania Democrats, Philadelphia Party Chairman Bob Brady said he hasn’t heard any hints from Democrats about pressuring Fetterman to drop out of the race.
“I mean, there are people talking and making sure he’s okay and ready to serve, but I haven’t heard anyone call and talk about what it would be like to remove him,” Brady said. “And they can’t replace him. He would have to retire.”
In the unlikely event that Fetterman found he could not run, he would have to voluntarily remove himself from the vote to be replaced. Then it would be up to the entire Democratic State Committee to determine who would replace him.
State Assemblyman Malcolm Kenyatta, who unsuccessfully ran against Fetterman in the May 17 primary, denounced the anonymous “Democratic leaders” who were quoted in an NBC story as if some Democrats said they would educate themselves about the rules if Fetterman would have to be replaced.
“If you’re an anonymous ‘leader of the Democrats’ feeding reporters shitty quotes about John Fetterman being replaced on the ticket, cut the crap.” Kenyatta tweeted. “It goes without saying that I was adamant that I should be nominated for the US Senate and I worked my ass off, but the voters made their decision and I respect it.”