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Stroke raises questions about Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's campaign

Health concerns have long played a role in elections.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is recovering from a stroke he suffered on Friday at Lancaster General Hospital. The medical event has pulled him off the campaign trail in the critical days leading up to the primary.

“It was on Friday. I just wasn’t feeling very well so I decided, ‘You know what, I needed to get checked out,’” Fetterman said in a video posted Sunday on Twitter from the hospital.

Fetterman said the stroke was caused by atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that created a blood clot. Doctors removed the clot and got his heart “under control,” according to a press release.

Pulling him off the campaign trail, the stroke is raising questions about whether it could affect his campaign.

“If it’s an ongoing medical concern, I think for a lot of voters that might be disqualifying,” said Stephen Medvic, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

Health concerns have long played a role in elections. Presidential candidates have long released detailed medical records, though former President Donald Trump only released a doctor’s note attesting to his general health during his candidacy.

Senate candidates, by contrast, are usually under less scrutiny regarding their health. In this case, it’s unlikely other candidates would directly use the stroke against Fetterman in their campaigns, according to Medvic.

The other two Democratic candidates for Senator, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Phila.), both wished Fetterman a speedy recovery.

The stroke may have less of an impact on the Democratic primary result as many people have already sent in their mail-in ballots. However, concerns about Fetterman’s health could be a bigger liability in the general election.

Should Fetterman win the primary, voters may see some questioning of his ability to serve as Senator.

“Campaigns get really negative, so maybe there will be some kind of outside group,” Medvic said. “It won’t be the candidate—the opponent him or herself—but it might be some kind of outside group that are largely unaccountable in their campaign advertising who may raise it and try to make it an issue.”

Fetterman’s campaign was quick to point out his fast recovery. 

According to a statement released Sunday, doctors said he did not suffer any cognitive damage. A video of Fetterman and Second Lady Gisele Fetterman taken in the hospital seems to show no drooping of one side of the face, a symptom of a condition called hemiparesis that is a common effect of stroke.

Still, the campaign announced that, as Fetterman continues to recuperate in the hospital, Gisele Fetterman will deliver election night remarks at their election night party in the Pittsburgh area.

“The doctors have assured us that he will be able to get back on the trail, but first under doctor orders and my orders, he needs a minute to rest, to recover,” Gisele Fetterman said in a video posted Sunday.

The larger challenge may be pushing turnout for Fetterman on Election Day.

“These are really [the] times when the candidate shows up to as many places as possible trying to rally support and really motivate voters to get out and vote,” Medvic said. “He won’t be able to do that.”

Fetterman’s campaign did not respond to a request for a doctor’s letter on his condition.

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