PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — A couple hundred die-hard supporters of John Fetterman’s campaign stood in the pouring rain Saturday morning in a Pittsburgh parking lot, a scene reminiscent of the former President Donald Trump supporters who stood in the rain for his rally in Greensburg in May. They were all waiting to hear him spell out the reasons why he should be the next senator from Pennsylvania.
The event began with the special guest former Steelers running back Franco Harris, who delivered a mellow 90-second speech on why Fetterman (pictured) should win in November.
“Very, very important race in Pennsylvania,” said Harris. “Certain people are using tactics to discourage our votes. But you know what? We will vote. We will vote.”
The crowd responded with, “We will vote. We will vote.”
Harris added, “I will say it once again. We will win. We will win. We will win. Because your one vote will make a difference. Your one vote, so remember, we will vote. We will vote. We will vote for John Fetterman. Here we go, baby.”
And that was it.
Harris was followed by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, a Democrat and the first black mayor of the city, who turned the volume up 100 decibels to deliver a fiery and divisive speech about fear. “We’ve got someone that’s on the opposite side that has told us straight that they want to take us back to yesterday,” he said. “They want to take our rights from us, and we get John Fetterman for us on this side that wants to uphold our rights and make sure that everybody has opportunity to assets, that everybody has opportunity to the government, that they want to speak! They want to make it hard for us to vote. They want to take our voting rights away from us. They want to send us back to yesterday instead of creating a path of prosperity for tomorrow.”
Gainey was followed by the second lady of Pennsylvania, Gisele Fetterman, who in introducing her husband said that Mehmet Oz was running on “hate, lies and division.”
Fetterman then took the stage to the Styx 1979 hit song “Renegade,” waving a Steelers’ Terrible Towel. He started making his pitch to his faithful followers. “I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed. … Franco Harris? That’s pretty Western Pennsylvania, right? What’s the opposite of Western Pennsylvania?”
He had the answer for that one: “Dr. Oz,” referring to his Republican opponent.
“Now,” he continued, “let me ask you a question. How many of you are going to want to tailgate with Dr. Oz?”
Fetterman went on with several stumbles over the next 10 minutes. He talked about sandwiches, salads, french fries on salads, more salads, how Dr. Oz is rooting for him to stay sick, and his most reliable tropes: crudites and protecting marriage equality. He said that Oz wanted to ban abortion with no exceptions and that he reduced crime while mayor of the borough of Braddock.
Then, he left the stage.
It speaks volumes that none of the speakers, including Fetterman himself, addressed the issues that polls show to be of utmost importance to the voters in this state—inflation, increasing crime and the drug epidemic.
Harris didn’t, Gainey didn’t—and Gainey really should, as the city of Pittsburgh has a staggering three-prong crime, homelessness and drug overdose problem that is at historic levels and driving residents and businesses outside city limits.
Fetterman’s speech also lacked any mention of the crippling inflation affecting people across the socioeconomic demographics of the state. And not once did he mention the crime wave that is sweeping not just the inner cities of Pittsburgh and Philly but the suburban collar counties as well. Fetterman’s only mention of crime was his bragging that he lowered crime in Braddock while he was mayor. But it isn’t true—available data measuring crime in the borough between 2005 and 2018 show that violent crime went up under his leadership, not down.
Fetterman’s assertion about Oz and marriage inequity was also patently false; Oz has said numerous times that he backs the Senate bill to preserve same-sex marriage.
His assertion that Oz does not support exceptions for abortions is not true either, for the record. Oz has said several times, including at a press conference in Pittsburgh attended by many of the same reporters covering Fetterman, that he would legislate exceptions for incest, rape and the life of the mother.
And his assertion that Oz wanted him to stay sick was … well, quite nasty, really. Oz is definitely benefiting from Fetterman’s continued ill health, but he has also said dozens and dozens of times, as recently as the day before Fetterman’s rally, that he wishes a full recovery for the York native.
The Fetterman event was striking in its contrast to Oz’s event on the campaign trail two days prior. Oz spent that time walking back and forth along the six blocks of Parade Street with black leaders from the faith community, listening to the frustrations of random passersby, and discussing what type of solutions they’d like to see from Washington. The heart surgeon spent hours Friday in Duquesne, Rankin and other distressed majority-black communities along the Monongahela River, touring the town with black leaders and then spending hours listening to their concerns about policing and opportunity and access to better programs for their children to keep them off the streets.
None of the questions that came to Oz in any of those daylong events was easy, nor were the ad hoc questions posed to him when he visited the crime-ravaged Kensington neighborhood of Philly last week. But he showed up, felt the frustration, listened and learned at the same time Fetterman was placing a meme on Twitter showing a stick image of himself kicking the “balls” of D.C.
One Allegheny County Democrat, frustrated with the lack of any “meat on the bones” of Fetterman’s rhetoric, said he wouldn’t vote for Oz, “but I also won’t vote for Fetterman. I’ll just leave that blank. There is no there there.”
For the last several months, the focus has been on Fetterman’s recovery from heart surgery and a stroke and the lack of transparency on the state of his health, what caused his heart condition and why he had not revealed this apparently serious problem back when he sought the nomination, or back when he was going for the lieutenant governorship.
Fetterman also has not answered questions about a bizarre incident in which he chased down a black jogger when he was mayor of Braddock. He has not addressed his years of unpaid taxes to one of the poorest school districts in the commonwealth, which he finally did settle and pay, or why he kept several properties he owns in Braddock off of his financial statements when running for office.
Voters do not know where Fetterman stands on the crime wave that is sweeping the state or on how to address the inflationary costs that are crippling the country. They do not know how he would address the current recession or what his solutions are for the fentanyl crisis that is ravaging the Appalachian section of his state, as well as the streets of Philadelphia.
Many reporters believe Fetterman’s lack of honesty and transparency about his health issues have driven his slide in the polls in the past few weeks. But many Democrats will tell you privately that his slide is because people don’t know where he stands on important issues. They are feeling the stress as they watch Oz go into neighborhoods, rural and urban, and take hard questions from voters that Fetterman won’t answer.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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