When John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz, candidates for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat, met last night in Philadelphia for their one and only debate, it was perhaps inevitable that the subject of fracking would come up. Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, and Oz, a longtime daytime talk show host known for dispensing dubious medical advice, have each given conflicting statements on the gas extraction process in the past. Oz once wrote that fracking should be banned until further health studies were conducted, while Fetterman previously said in an interview that "I don't support fracking, at all and I never have." On the campaign trail, each candidate has since endorsed the practice.
Noting that the Keystone State is second only to Texas in natural gas production, the debate moderators presented the candidates with their respective shifting positions.
Oz barreled ahead, saying he was "consistent" in fully supporting the practice. He didn't explain his flip-flop, but he did affirm his current position that fracking is "a lifeline for this commonwealth."
Fetterman, however, had a harder time explaining the inconsistencies in his own record. When asked to square his previous statements with his current support of fracking as "part of our energy portfolio," Fetterman stammered, "I do support fracking. And, I don't, I don't—I support fracking, and I stand, and I do support fracking."
Fetterman could be forgiven for verbal slip-ups: The debate marked his first time speaking for an extended period on live television since suffering a stroke in May. As with an NBC News interview earlier this month, Fetterman used closed captioning to accommodate the auditory processing issues he stills suffers from. Despite a recent doctor's note claiming that he is "recovering well" with no diminished "cognitive ability," Fetterman's campaign released a memo ahead of the debate seemingly intent on lowering expectations of his performance.
But the candidate was notably able to answer and explain many other positions throughout the night, and even respond to his opponent's jabs—for example, when Oz criticized Fetterman for his support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), Fetterman retorted that Oz had embraced Sanders in a 2019 appearance on his show and said, "I love this guy!"
Of course, energy policy has long been an uncomfortable subject for Democrats, balancing support of climate change mitigation with the nation's current energy needs. But it is notable that of all the questions asked, this one—on an issue critical to both his own state's fortunes as well as the nation's current economic reality—was the only one Fetterman was unable to find a clear answer to.