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John Fetterman’s Campaign After His Stroke: Memes and Mockery

When John Fetterman, the slender six-foot-tall aspiring Pennsylvania senator, suffered a stroke on a Friday in mid-May, his medical emergency alarmed Democratic strategists as well as the unusual personal network of artists, activists and admiring celebrities he has. built up over a decade-plus in politics.

And when his campaign issued a doctor’s note and then revealed he also had a serious, previously undisclosed heart condition, many in the political press immediately began asking probing questions about the incessant series of revelations — the result, his campaign said, of medical correctness. not with the intent of being less than completely transparent about the candidate’s condition.

“Like so many others, and so many men in particular, I avoided going to the doctor even though I knew I wasn’t feeling well,” Fetterman confessed when his doctor issued a letter, which basically scolded him because he neglected his health. “As a result, I almost died. I want to encourage others not to make the same mistake.”

More than a month into his recovery, Fetterman tries something completely new in American politics: a towel-breaking virtual campaign of brutal online memes, scathing ridicule from his opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and fourth wall bending television ads and online videos exploding many of the usual political campaign tropes.

Fetterman and his team of seasoned but decidedly untraditional political operatives make the most of a health crisis that would ruin far less nimble campaigns — fending off suspicious reporters, opposition investigators, and the usual gossip that can threaten any campaign.

Fetterman’s advisers warn that polls showing the lieutenant governor has a healthy but potentially soft edge over Oz will inevitably tighten as the wayward Republicans return to the fold and if the GOP Wurlitzer of assault advertising and opposition research turns up in earnest.

But for now, strategists in Pennsylvania and Washington say, Biden’s 2022 steampunk edition in His Basement seems to be working surprisingly well.

President Biden reached out to Fetterman’s wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, to express his concern and well wishes, according to a person familiar with the interaction, and not long after made contact with John himself.

They held two video calls together, with Luján offering some wisdom and Fetterman peppering him with questions about Senate matters that could affect Pennsylvania. Luján’s top advice: don’t rush your recovery, a recommendation that is at odds with the greenhouse pressure of a pivotal Senate campaign.

“He looked and sounded great,” said Luján. Old friends of Fetterman say he’s not quite healthy, but still very much his old self – gruff and iconoclastic, flaunting his caustic sense of humor, razor-sharp memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of political and cultural secrets.

Fetterman’s campaign has thought carefully about how to convey that he is on the road to recovery, while acknowledging that he is not 100 percent ready to return to the campaign trail. His aides are aware that a major misstep during his first outing could raise questions, perhaps even unfair ones, about his true condition.

Luján had a unique sympathy for the dilemmas of how much information should be disclosed to the news media, and when. His own doctors declined calls for a detailed initial statement and urged his staff to await their full medical assessment of his health before releasing information that could be used as a weapon or misrepresented in the press. could be proposed.

Before conducting interviews, Luján said, “I was a nervous wreck.”

So far, only a few public polls on the general election have been released, but they all show Fetterman by a commanding lead – for now.

Polls show Oz is being viewed negatively by many voters after he endured millions of dollars in assault ads during his bruised primary with Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund executive.

But both campaigns expect tens of thousands of Republican voters to find ways to put aside their questions about his conservative bonafides and, as one Republican official put it, “put their team jerseys back on.”

Fetterman’s advisers hope to make authenticity the crutch of the campaign: the former mayor of a downtrodden steel town on the banks of the Monongahela River in hoodie and shorts against Cleveland-born, New Jersey-bred purveyor of sometimes questionable medical advice who misspelled the city in its Pennsylvania address in an official campaign document.

Republican groups affiliated with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, are preparing to hit Fetterman with negative ads expressing his support for universal health care, the federal legalization of cannabis, sweeping changes to the criminal justice system and raising the law. minimum wage as too left expresses. wing for a swing state like Pennsylvania.

Fetterman has attacked Oz’s credibility with the zeal of a dogged internet troll, in one case mocking the Republican nominee for posing in a construction hat by juxtaposing a cartoon image of a small child operating a plastic digger.

The tweet, a photo caption that reads “My Dream Construction Truck,” had left-leaning online forums praising Fetterman’s posting skills using internet slang such as “edgelord,” “dunked on” and “pwned.”

While Fetterman was recuperating at home with family, taking long walks, taking his kids to and from school, and grocery shopping, Democrats passed out yard signs that read “Oz for New Jersey” and figured out new ways to defeat their Republican opponent.

Gisele Barreto Fetterman, a Brazilian-born community activist and philanthropist who happens to be a friend of Kim Kardashian, has lit Instagram and other social media platforms with videos of her promoting her husband’s candidacy.

Yet the Fettermans are swimming against a tsunami of opposing forces: high inflation, a deflated Democratic Party and a president many voters see as helpless, sluggish and struggling to meet his agenda.

In Pennsylvania, where the Senate race could determine control of the chamber and the trajectory of Biden’s next two years, John Fetterman’s health complications add another layer of complexity to Democrats’ dynamic, mounting concern about the race.

There also remains the question of how well Fetterman’s tattooed, working-class Everyman plays outside of his political base in Western Pennsylvania, the most remote and insular part of the state culturally. Pennsylvania elections are often won and lost in the densely populated suburbs of Philadelphia, where Oz may be able to make a breakthrough among moderate voters who are especially concerned about low taxes and the cost of living.

“You can’t just put on a Carhartt jacket and shorts and expect to win over all these Trump voters,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican former political adviser in Sacramento.

If Fetterman wins, however, Luján noted that he’ll have to make some tough decisions about his wardrobe: The Senate has fairly strict decency rules, including a formal dress code, and decades of genteel protocols and standards.

“It’s not a place with shorts and hoodies,” said Luján.

  • It was an afternoon of bombing raids on Capitol Hill, where a junior White House aide gave extraordinary testimony, saying Donald Trump knew the mob he had gathered in Washington on January 6, 2021 was armed and could turn violent, but wanted the security measures lifted because he said his supporters were not there to attack him. Read more about the 6 January committee hearing.

  • Rudolph Giuliani has emerged as a central figure in a Georgia criminal investigation into attempts by Trump and his allies to reverse his election loss in the state, Danny Hakim and Richard Fausset report.

  • Illinois, New York, Colorado and several other states held elections today, including key Senate, Governor and Secretary of State primaries. Follow our live updates and see the results pouring in tonight.

— Blake

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