Three months after John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee, was sidelined by a stroke, he is planning to return to the campaign trail with a rally next Friday.
Mr. Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, announced on Friday that he will hold the rally in Erie, Pa., his team said. He is facing Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor and Republican nominee, in one of the nation’s marquee Senate battles.
Pennsylvania may offer the Democrats their best chance at picking up a U.S. Senate seat, and Mr. Fetterman’s general election debut, on the cusp of the intense fall campaign season, will be closely watched. For weeks after the stroke in May, he remained largely out of the public eye, releasing brief video clips as he recovered. In June, his campaign acknowledged that he also had a heart condition called cardiomyopathy. Mr. Fetterman said that he had “almost died,” and he promised to focus on his recovery.
He has slowly begun to emerge, greeting volunteers in July and attending some in-person fund-raisers, while Dr. Oz has criticized him for his absence from the trail.
Some who have listened to Mr. Fetterman at fund-raising events in recent weeks have said that he appears energetic but that it was sometimes evident that he was grasping for a word — something Mr. Fetterman has acknowledged.
“I might miss a word every now and then in a conversation, or I might slur two words,” Mr. Fetterman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month. “Even then, I think that’s infrequent.” He added, “I feel like we are ready to run.”
While Mr. Fetterman himself has had a light in-person campaign schedule, he and his team have maintained a relentless pace on social media, pursuing a range of creative tactics to cast Dr. Oz as more at home in New Jersey — which had been his longtime principal residence — than in Pennsylvania, where he says he now lives, in a Philadelphia suburb.
Mr. Fetterman’s campaign tapped Nicole Polizzi of “Jersey Shore” fame — better known as Snooki — to record a video for Dr. Oz declaring that “Jersey will not forget you.”
And Stevie Van Zandt, a renowned musician and actor who has reached legend status in his home state, recorded a direct-to-camera message to Dr. Oz urging him to “come on back to Jersey where you belong. And we’ll have some fun, eh?”
For his part, Dr. Oz, a heart surgeon, has unveiled a site that criticizes Mr. Fetterman as a “basement bum” over his absence from the campaign trail. He has also sought to link Mr. Fetterman to President Biden, who has struggled with anemic approval ratings, and to Senator Bernie Sanders, whom Mr. Fetterman backed in the 2016 presidential primary.
Public polling shows Mr. Fetterman with a sizable lead over Dr. Oz. But Pennsylvania is perhaps the ultimate swing state, and the race may tighten significantly before Election Day. On Friday, Mr. Fetterman’s campaign announced that it surpassed one million individual contributions since he announced his candidacy last year.
“Whoever wins Erie County will win Pennsylvania,” Mr. Fetterman said in a statement announcing his plans for a rally. “Erie County is Pennsylvania’s most important bellwether county.”