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In debate, GOP’s Oz delivers the abortion answer Dems hoped for

Democrats in Pennsylvania want nothing more than to talk about Mehmet Oz’s far-right plans on reproductive rights, and he just made their job easier.


There have been quite a few debates lately featuring U.S. Senate candidates and incumbents, but by most measures, the face-off in Pennsylvania drew considerably more attention than most. There’s no great mystery as to why: It’s one of the nation’s most competitive contests, in a race that might dictate which party controls the Senate, featuring a Republican television personality and a Democrat recovering from a stroke.

Naturally, much of the political world was eager to tune in.

Indeed, in his opening comments, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman took some time to address what he described as “the elephant in the room.” The Democratic candidate explained, “I had a stroke. He’s never let me forget that. And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together. It knocked me down, but I’m gonna keep coming back up.”

It effectively served as a warning from the outset: Fetterman’s recovery is ongoing, he’s a work in progress, and he hopes voters will be patient as he works his way back. The comments proved prescient, as the lieutenant governor clearly struggled at times. Republicans wasted little time in jumping on Fetterman’s halting delivery.

If the Senate race comes down to which candidate can deliver a more polished debate performance, then Oz and the GOP have reason to be optimistic.

But as the dust settled on last night’s event, there was something entirely different that put a spring in Democrats’ step. As NBC News’ report noted, it was Oz’s line on abortion rights that “immediately raised eyebrows.”

“I don’t want the federal government involved with that at all,” Oz said. “I want women, doctors, local political leaders letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”

If Oz had simply said the matter would be left to women and doctors, that would’ve been a perfectly fine response. But the Republican instead said that he wants “local political leaders” involved in reproductive decision-making — which was the break Democrats were hoping for.

In fact, voters in the Keystone State will apparently be hearing a lot more about this in the coming days.

“Our campaign will be putting money behind making sure as many women as possible hear Dr. Oz’s radical belief that ‘local political leaders’ should have as much say over a woman’s abortion decisions as women themselves and their doctors,” Fetterman spokesperson Joe Calvello said in a statement. “After months of trying to hide his extreme abortion position, Oz let it slip on the debate stage on Tuesday. Oz belongs nowhere near the U.S. Senate, and suburban voters across Pennsylvania will see just how out-of-touch Oz is on this issue.”

What’s more, as my MSNBC colleague Zeeshan Aleem noted, Oz also repeatedly dodged questions about whether he’d vote for Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposed 15-week abortion ban.

Remember, for Democrats at the national level, the more the focus is on reproductive rights, the worse it is for Republican candidates. This is especially true for Oz in Pennsylvania, who’s told voters he considers abortion to be “murder.”

It was against this backdrop that the Republican refused to give a straight answer about a proposed abortion ban at the national level, and endorsed “local political leaders” helping dictate abortion policy at the local level.

I won’t pretend to know how, or even whether, the debate might affect the outcome of this Senate race, and if Pennsylvanians are feeling impatient about the pace of Fetterman’s recovery, he might very well come up short in two weeks.

But Democrats in the Keystone State want nothing more than to talk about Oz’s far-right plans on reproductive rights, and last night, he made their job easier.