“Three months ago my life could have ended, but I’m also very grateful to be here tonight,” Fetterman said, thanking the crowd and his wife, Gisele, for their support.
“Gisele saved my life,” he added.
Fetterman, a press spokesman said, did not prepare remarks ahead of the rally. His return to the track marked a milestone for the candidate, who has only graced the headlines with fundraising and informal campaign rallies while recovering from the stroke, which happened within days. ahead of the Commonwealth Democratic primary.
“He doesn’t live here. He doesn’t concern us. He doesn’t care about us,” he later said.
Sometimes Fetterman’s voice seemed to trail off at the end of a thought. In an interview with CNN affiliate KDKA on Thursday night, he acknowledged that he had had ongoing issues from the stroke, including auditory processing issues. “I will sometimes miss a word, or sometimes I can put two words together in a conversation, but that’s really the only problem and it’s getting better every day,” he said.
Erie is a hot spot for the Democratic nominee — Erie County voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then switched to Donald Trump in 2016 before switching back to Democrats in 2020 narrowly supporting Biden. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, with Fetterman as his running mate, carried the county by more than 20 points in 2018.
“If you can’t win Erie County, you can’t win Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said Friday to loud applause.
A long line of voters had gathered outside the Bayfront Convention Center with an air of excitement before the candidate took the stage, eager to hear the Democrat’s speech.
Bonnie Casane, an Erie resident who has described herself as a “strong Fetterman supporter,” told CNN she was previously an independent but re-registered as a Democrat to vote for Fetterman in the of the May primary election: “Fetterman was the party to switch to, so I switched to the Democratic Party.”
Mike Dropcho, a retired X-ray technician and former union member, told CNN he liked Fetterman to be “down to earth.”
“He’s not a celebrity who’s just there for who knows what,” Dropcho said. “He strikes me as someone who is for the people. He’s one of us.”
Asked about Fetterman’s health and his return to the campaign trail on Friday, Dropcho said he was confident Fetterman would make a comeback.
“After working in the medical field for so long and seeing the reports, I knew he was going to be fine,” he said.
Oz’s response – or lack thereof – set off alarm bells within the Republican Party.
The Oz campaign targeted Fetterman’s recent time away from public campaigning.
“I prayed for him. I’m glad he’s okay. … Now that he’s back, John Fetterman can’t keep hiding from voters forever,” Oz said as he ran. “I’m glad Fetterman is healthy so we can worry less about his heart and his hoodie and more about the crazy leftist ideas in his head.”