Pennsylvania Senate candidates Fetterman and Oz debate

Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz are facing off Tuesday night in their first and only debate in the state’s highly-watched and contentious Senate race

The race is considered a toss-up with just two weeks before Election Day — and the results could determine which party controls the Senate, which is currently evenly split 50-50. Fetterman and Oz are vying for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey.

Polls have been tightening over the past few months. The CBS News Battleground Tracker poll released Tuesday ahead of the debate found Fetterman leads by just  2 points over Oz, 51% to 49%, down from his 5-point lead in mid-September.

Fetterman’s health has been front and center since he suffered a stroke just days before winning the Democratic primary in May. He returned to the campaign trail in August but continues to struggle with auditory processing issues, which he’s described as sometimes missing a word or “mushing” words together. There will be a constant reminder of that on stage, since he’ll be relying on closed-captioning during the debate, as he has for interviews since his stroke.

Fetterman’s campaign tried to set expectations low, noting the captions would be typed out by human beings in real time on live TV.

“Some amount of human error in the transcription is inevitable, which may cause temporary miscommunications at times,” campaign adviser Rebecca Katz and campaign manager Brendan McPhillips wrote in a memo obtained by CBS News. They said they were “prepared for Oz’s allies and right-wing media to circulate malicious viral videos after the debate.”

Fetterman’s health has been a political target for Dr. Oz, who has criticized Fetterman for not debating sooner and accused him of hiding either his condition or using his health to hide policies from the voters.

Only 46% of registered voters in CBS News’ poll said ahead of the debate that it was important for candidates to talk about Fetterman’s health. Fifty-five percent said Fetterman was healthy enough to serve. Among likely voters, the top issues they want to hear about are the economy, inflation, crime, guns and abortion.

Voting in the midterm is well underway in Pennsylvania. More than 635,000 voters have already cast ballots by mail. Of those, 73% have been cast by Democrats, a figure that reflects their tendency to vote early, compared to  Republicans, who vote in larger numbers on Election Day.

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