John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the Senate in Pennsylvania, returned in person to the campaign trail Friday night for the first time since suffering days from a stroke three months ago.

“Three months ago my life could have ended. It’s true,” Fetterman said from the packed room in Erie. “But I’m so grateful to be here with all of you tonight.”

Fetterman, who is currently the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, has been taking his campaign almost entirely online since his stroke in May.

Fetterman said at the time that he was first exposed to his heart condition in 2017, but failed to follow his doctor’s advice. After the stroke, Fetterman was diagnosed with a heart condition, cardiomyopathy, and had a pacemaker implanted.

“Giselle saved my life” an emotionally emotional Fetterman said of his wife, who introduced him to the crowd and stood by him throughout his speech on Friday night. He also thanked the crowd for their support.

Although he was sidelined for several months, Fetterman’s campaign reported strong fundraising figures throughout the summer and TV commercials were able to air early. Since the primary, the campaign has spent more than $5.2 million on ads, including $1.1 million on digital, according to ad tracking by AdImpact. By comparison, his rival, Dr. Mehmet Oz, spent less than $20,000 on digital ads. The National Republican Senate Committee spent just over $4 million on ads in the race.

At the same time, Fetterman has been organizing meetings with a mix of posts on issues, images, memes and videos and is actively promoting it on social media, often publicly available in the form of Oz’s many years of TV and videos. Pulling from a bunch of photos. personality. Some more edgy videos have gone viral on Twitter and Facebook. His campaign says that what has made the online promotion a success is that it is authentic and he is a funny guy.

On Friday, Fetterman continued to target Oz by calling him a New Jersey resident.

“He’s not from here,” Fetterman said. “He doesn’t care about us.”

On issues, Fetterman kept it brief in his speech but said of the currently 50-50 split of the Senate that he wants to be the Democrat’s 51st vote. He criticized the current minimum wage, criticized the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and called for an end to filibuster.

Although there are almost three months left before election day, voters queued up ahead of Friday night’s rally.

“He knows our concerns in Pennsylvania,” said Juan Duran, a Republican at the rally who plans to vote for Fetterman in November. “We can’t really have someone from outside for the Senate.”

For attendees, top issues include abortion rights, voting rights, and even former President Trump. According to the campaign, around 1,355 supporters came to hear him speak, who stood all the way outside the main road.

Before his stroke, Fetterman had been campaigning across the state, including in dark red conservative areas. In the first, he won all 67 counties.

Choosing Erie for his first personal campaign was a strategic decision. The county, located in the far northwestern part of Pennsylvania, is seen as a threat to the rest of the state. President Biden narrowly won Erie County and the state in 2020; But former President Donald Trump won the county in 2016 and the state narrowly. And for statewide officials, in 2018, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf won the county; And in 2016, Republican Senator Pat Tomei also won Erie County in his successful re-election campaign.

In his first TV interview since a stroke, Fetterman told CBS Pittsburgh on Thursday that he can’t wait to get back on the campaign trail and will be “everywhere.” His campaign says the Erie rally is the start of a slow build-up in Fetterman’s return to the campaign trail, with more and more activity heading towards a decline.

While Fetterman’s campaign has been primarily online, he is still voting ahead of Oz, who has had the support of former President Trump since the primary. The Real Clear Politics Average has outperformed him by more than 8 points. But Republican officials expect that gap to close as Election Day draws closer and more voters begin to focus on race.

Oz has visited the state several times throughout the summer. Recently, he stopped by a US Army post to meet service members and veterans and visit a tool-making business.

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