Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, the Democratic Senate nominee who has been off the campaign trail for more than two months after having a stroke in mid-May, told his hometown newspaper this week that he hopes to return to in-person campaigning “very soon” even as he acknowledged some persisting health effects.
“I would never be in this if we were not absolutely, 100 percent able to run fully and to win — and we believe that we are,” Mr. Fetterman told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday, his first interview since falling ill.
Mr. Fetterman had a stroke days before the Democratic primary in May and had a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted on the day of the primary. At the time, his campaign described the move as a standard procedure that would address “the underlying cause of his stroke, atrial fibrillation.” In early June, his campaign acknowledged that he also had a heart condition called cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure, and his doctor said he had appeared to have left other heart issues untreated for years.
Mr. Fetterman said he “almost died” and vowed to focus on his recovery before returning to the trail.
Since then, his campaign has kept up an aggressive and attention-grabbing social media and television presence, painting his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, as more at home in New Jersey than Pennsylvania. But the public has seen little from Mr. Fetterman, save for the occasional brief video.
In the Post-Gazette interview, which was conducted by video — and Mr. Fetterman used closed captioning to ensure he did not miss words, the paper said — the candidate said he was walking four to five miles a day, participating in campaign strategy sessions and is now increasingly attending fund-raisers, with several scheduled for this week. He greeted volunteers in person recently, and he also said he was working with a speech therapist.
“I might miss a word every now and then in a conversation, or I might slur two words. Even then, I think that’s infrequent,” Mr. Fetterman told the paper. “So I feel like we are ready to run.”
He stressed that “physically, I have no limits,” though he also acknowledged that “my hearing is still a little bit not perfect.”
Several people who attended a virtual fund-raiser with Mr. Fetterman recently said they were encouraged to see that he seemed to be improving, but also said that he did not sound quite like he did before the stroke — as Mr. Fetterman has implicitly acknowledged.
“We saw a candidate whom we all support but who was still recovering,” said Phyllis Snyder, a board member of J Street, the liberal Israel-focused organization. J Street Pennsylvania and the organization’s political arm were listed as hosting the fund-raiser. “We hope that that will continue. But he was very engaged.”
She added that Mr. Fetterman typically “speaks what’s on his mind. I’d say he was just a little more measured and careful.”
Other attendees said it was occasionally evident when he was reaching for a word.
“I don’t think he’s totally back yet,” said Ed Feinstein, a lawyer in Pittsburgh who also attended the event. “But he was animated, and he answered questions.”
“He seemed to have energy,” he added, “which I’d been worried about.”
Indeed, plenty of Pennsylvania Democrats have privately been anxious about when Mr. Fetterman will return to making public appearances. He has led a number of public polls over Dr. Oz, who faces challenges with his own base. But Pennsylvania is a highly competitive state, and may represent Democrats’ best chance to pick up a seat.
Given the stakes of the election and the intense nature of running a statewide contest, Mr. Feinstein said that “I came away encouraged. But I’m still concerned.”
“A lot of his appeal is when you see him,” he continued. “He needs to get out there and talk to people in small and larger groups. And that’s grueling, there’s no question about it.”
In a statement, Mr. Fetterman’s spokesman, Joe Calvello, said Mr. Fetterman was “doing incredibly well for a guy who had a stroke two months ago and is well on his way to a full recovery.”
Noting Mr. Fetterman’s own assessment of his health, he continued, “he will occasionally miss a word or slur a word now and then. This is all part of the recovery process.”
And certainly, he is not the first politician to suffer a stroke or heart problems. Former Vice President Dick Cheney had a defibrillator implanted in 2001. He finished two terms in the White House, including a re-election battle in 2004.
In a sign of accelerating activity, Mr. Fetterman is set to attend three in-person fund-raisers in Philadelphia on Thursday, Mr. Calvello confirmed.