John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, took a major step Friday in his return to the campaign trail by holding his first rally since suffering a stroke in May.
“Tonight for me is about being grateful,” Fetterman said in remarks that lasted a little more than 10 minutes. “Three months ago my life could have ended.”
The 52-year-old lieutenant governor credited his wife for taking action in mid-May after recognizing he was exhibiting symptoms of a stroke just two days before he won the Democratic primary.
“Gisele saved my life,” Fetterman said at the event in Erie.
His appearance came just hours after GOP rival and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz challenged Fetterman to five debates in an effort to boost his chances against the Democratic front-runner and indirectly draw attention to Fetterman’s health.
Surgeons implanted a pacemaker with a defibrillator to regulate Fetterman’s heartbeat after his stroke, which quickly stirred concerns about when he would return to the campaign trail.
During his recovery, Fetterman said that before the stroke he had suffered symptoms of a heart condition, but had not followed up with doctors or taken the recommended medication.
Republicans have criticized Fetterman’s campaign for releasing highly edited videos of the candidate that they say intentionally conceal the speech problems that he said stemmed from the stroke.
Fetterman has maintained a comfortable lead in the polls and has outspent Oz on TV ads, but said at Friday’s rally he would approach the race as though he had fallen behind.
“It’s not a secret how I’m going to win,” Fetterman said. “We are going to always run like we’re always down by five points.”