“Three months ago, my life could have ended but I’m so grateful to be here tonight as well,” Fetterman said, thanking the crowd and his wife, Gisele, for their support.
“Gisele saved my life,” he added.
Fetterman, a press spokesperson said, did not prepare remarks in advance of the rally. His return to the trail marked a significant step for the candidate, who has only headlined a fundraiser and informal campaign gatherings while recovering from the stroke, which happened just days before the commonwealth’s Democratic primary.
“He doesn’t live here. He’s not about us. He doesn’t care about us,” he later said.
At times, Fetterman’s voice appeared to trail at the end of a thought. In an interview with CNN affiliate KDKA Thursday night, he acknowledged he’s had some lingering issues from the stroke, including auditory processing problems. “I’ll miss a word sometimes, or I might push two words together sometimes in a conversation, but that’s really the only issue and it’s getting better and better every day,” he said.
Erie is a strategic spot for the Democratic candidate — Erie County voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then switched to Donald Trump in 2016 before swinging back to Democrats in 2020 by narrowly backing 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 of the Bayfront Convention Center with an air of excitement before the candidate took the stage, eager to hear the Democrat speak.
Bonnie Casane, a resident of Erie who described herself as a “staunch supporter of Fetterman,” told CNN she was previously an independent but re-registered as a Democrat to vote for Fetterman in 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 likes that Fetterman is “down to earth.”
“He’s not some celebrity that’s just in it for who knows what,” Dropcho said. “He appears to me to be somebody that’s for the people. He’s one of us.”
Asked about Fetterman’s health and his return to the campaign trail Friday, Dropcho said he was confident Fetterman would make a return.
“After working in the medical field for so long and seeing the reports, I knew he was going to pull out okay,” he said.
Oz’s response — or lack thereof — set off alarm bells within the Republican Party.
The Oz campaign has targeted Fetterman’s recent time away from public campaigning.
“I’ve been praying for him. I am glad he is OK. … Now that he is back, John Fetterman can’t keep hiding from voters forever,” Oz says as he jogs. “I am 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.”