Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, legalization champion, suffers minor stroke days before primary

HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the leading Democrat in the state’s high-profile Senate contest, suffered a stroke just days before the primary election but was on his way to a “full recovery,” his campaign staff said on Sunday. 

‘The good news is I’m feeling better, and doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage.”

– Lt. Gov. John Fetterman

The 52-year-old Fetterman, who confirmed that he had been hospitalized all weekend, insisted the health emergency wasn’t slowing his campaign. But the stunning revelation, two days before Pennsylvania’s primary, created a cloud of uncertainty over the Democratic front-runner’s candidacy in what may be one of the party’s best Senate pickup opportunities. 

In a 16-second video released by his campaign, a seated Fetterman, speaking clearly, explained that he “just wasn’t feeling very well” on Friday and decided to go to the hospital at the urging of his wife. He detailed the situation further in a written statement. 

“I had a stroke that was caused by a clot from my heart being in an A-fib rhythm for too long,” Fetterman said. He said the doctors were able to remove the clot, “reversing the stroke,” and got his heart under control.

“The good news is I’m feeling much better, and the doctors tell me I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage,” he said in the statement.

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Over the past two years Fetterman has emerged as one of America’s leading cannabis legalization advocates. He’s come under fire from political opponents for flying a cannabis flag from the lieutenant governor’s office in the state capitol building in Harrisburg. Fetterman celebrated 4/20 in 2021 by appearing at a rally for adult-use legalization on the statehouse steps.

Events cancelled over the weekend

Questions about Fetterman’s health swirled throughout the weekend after he canceled scheduled public appearances Friday, Saturday and Sunday. His campaign cited a health issue but was not specific until Sunday.

Fetterman did not say how much longer he would be in the hospital. 

“They’re keeping me here for now for observation, but I should be out of here sometime soon,” he said in the statement. “The doctors have assured me that I’ll be able to get back on the trail, but first I need to take a minute, get some rest, and recover.”

Thousands of early votes have already been cast in the race, although Pennsylvania Democrats on Tuesday will finalize their general election nominee from a four-person field that features Fetterman, three-term U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. 

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Fetterman leading in Senate primary

Fetterman is the strong favorite. He has led in polls and fundraising from the start, even as the party’s establishment rallied around Lamb. Despite such support, Lamb struggled to reach voters or even pierce Fetterman’s standing with primary voters.

Lamb tweeted that he was conducting a television interview when he learned of Fetterman’s stroke.

“Hayley and I are keeping John and his family in our prayers and wishing him a full and speedy recovery,” Lamb wrote.

Kenyatta called Fetterman “an incredible family man.” “My prayers are with him and his family as he recovers from this stroke,” he tweeted. “I look forward to seeing him back on the campaign trail soon.”

And on the Republican side, Senate GOP hopeful Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon, said he has experience treating Fetterman’s condition. 

“I have cared for atrial fibrillation patients and witnessed the miracles of modern medicine in the treatment of strokes, so I am thankful that you received care so quickly,” Oz tweeted. “My whole family is praying for your speedy recovery.”

Heart condition brought under control

Fetterman’s heart condition, atrial fibrillation, occurs when the heart’s top chambers, called the atria, get out of sync with the bottom chambers’ pumping action. Sometimes patients feel a flutter or a racing heart, but many times they’re not aware of an episode.

A-fib is most common in older adults, and other risks include high blood pressure or a family history of arrhythmias. It causes 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S.

Fetterman, who is 6-foot-8, has been open about his push to lose weight in the past. He weighed in at over 400 pounds before losing nearly 150 pounds in 2018. 

His imposing stature has been a big part of his political appeal. 

The former western Pennsylvania mayor has tattoos down his arms, a clean-shaven head and a goatee. He curses on social media and wears shorts practically everywhere, even in the winter. 

He vowed to press forward on Sunday despite the health setback. 

“Our campaign isn’t slowing down one bit, and we are still on track to win this primary on Tuesday, and flip this Senate seat in November,” he said. “Thanks for all the support, and please get out there and vote.”


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