Fetterman’s debate performance prompts Democratic hand-wringing

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In public, Democratic leaders are projecting confidence that John Fetterman can nonetheless win the Pennsylvania Senate race after a shaky debate. In personal, some within the celebration are fretting that his well being struggles may price them a vital seat.

The lieutenant governor’s debate with movie star physician Mehmet Oz on Tuesday made for a tough night time for Democrats: As the 2 candidates fought over abortion and the minimal wage, Fetterman typically struggled to speak — lacking phrases, pausing awkwardly and infrequently having a tough time ending sentences. The episode injected new uncertainty in a swing state that might decide the stability of energy within the Senate.

With a lot on the road, Democrats on the highest ranges defended Fetterman, arguing that voters care extra about authenticity than verbal stumbles. Fetterman’s lead has shrunk in latest weeks, and the race is now a toss-up.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chair of the celebration’s marketing campaign committee, praised Fetterman for going by way of with the debate slightly than backing out: “It was good he did the debate. Because I believe he won, particularly with the major gaffe Dr. Oz made” on abortion.

“He’s recovering from a stroke and that takes time to recover, but I think the important thing was what he said, it’s not how he said it,” Peters mentioned in an interview. “I have no question that John Fetterman, when he wins, will also be an outstanding senator.

Behind the scenes, however, some Democrats are second-guessing Fetterman’s decision to participate. Some even questioned whether Fetterman should have stayed in the race in the immediate aftermath of his May stroke.

“I feel bad saying this,” mentioned a Pennsylvania Democratic official, “but if he does go on to lose by a very close margin, and then we lose the Senate 51-49 … that decision will really be reexamined.”

For his half, Peters mentioned he had no regrets about Fetterman remaining the celebration’s nominee after his stroke. And slightly than Fetterman’s communication points, Democrats imagine essentially the most lasting second can be Oz’s comment that “women, doctors, local political leaders” ought to make selections about abortion coverage.

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“Oz lost the debate when he told Pennsylvania voters that women should have to get permission from politicians like Doug Mastriano before they can get an abortion,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer instructed POLITICO, pointing to the state’s GOP gubernatorial nominee.

Republicans had been harsh of their evaluation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) mentioned in an interview that the entire episode was “stunningly painful” to observe.

“Every person I’ve talked to is flabbergasted that the Fetterman campaign allowed him to debate in such an obvious condition of impairment. I don’t know how anybody objectively could watch that performance and conclude anything other than: This guy can’t possibly do this job,” Cruz mentioned.

The Oz marketing campaign, nevertheless, caught to coverage. Brittany Yanick, a spokesperson for Oz, mentioned “that John Fetterman couldn’t defend a single one of his radical positions” and clarified that in contrast to Mastriano, Oz is in favor of some abortion exemptions.

Larry Ceisler, a Pennsylvania-based public affairs advisor who has expertise getting ready Democratic candidates for debates, mentioned he has seen Fetterman converse in particular person coherently since his stroke. But Fetterman appeared unable to defend himself within the annoying state of affairs or correctly handle the components of the debate that had been in his management, Ceisler mentioned.

“There were two things he should have been able to do and he should have been able to do in a focused and effective manner, and that was his opening statement and his closing statement,” he mentioned. “Because that is no different than [when] he makes a speech.”

Looking to shift consideration onto Oz, the Fetterman marketing campaign introduced nearly instantly it might air the TV advert highlighting Oz’s feedback on abortion. The Democrat’s group additionally revealed Wednesday that it raised greater than $2 million because the debate. As progressives circulated the clip of Oz on-line on Twitter, it racked up practically 6 million views by Wednesday afternoon.

Fetterman adviser Rebecca Katz sought to downplay considerations amongst Democrats, arguing that “the fact that he is still standing and doing as well as he is in this race is due to his connection with real Pennsylvanians.”

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“I know there’s some — I’ll be a little bit graphic here — Democratic bedwetting out there, which is often typical of Democratic commentators and officials,” mentioned Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, a prime surrogate for Fetterman. “Let’s refrain from bedwetting and get the vote out.”

Former President Donald Trump’s tremendous PAC, MAGA Inc., is already out with an ad highlighting one of Fetterman’s verbal stumbles, declaring that Fetterman “just isn’t right.” A Republican official mentioned the celebration could additional spotlight Fetterman’s complicated debate reply on his previous opposition to fracking.

Pennsylvania is Democrats’ finest alternative to select up a GOP-held seat this 12 months. If Democrats can carry Pennsylvania, it might make holding onto their slim 50-50 majority that a lot simpler.

JB Poersch, president of the Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC, made clear that his group isn’t altering its plans to spend thousands and thousands to advertise Fetterman within the ultimate weeks of the race. He mentioned that “Oz confirmed the worst fears of voters” together with his reply on abortion.

Pennsylvania was a shiny spot for Democrats this summer time, however they’ve slowly grown much less assured concerning the state’s Senate race in latest weeks. Still, it stays a cornerstone of their political technique.

“Your average voter is going to look at a simple thing: Which of these two guys, Fetterman or Oz, gets them and will fight for them? And they’re going to conclude that Fetterman got knocked down, he’s gotten back up,” mentioned Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “Nothing about that debate will change the outcome.”

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There is a few precedent for a way survivors of main well being incidents climate Senate races. Former Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) suffered a mind hemorrhage in 2006 however gained re-election in 2008, whereas former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) misplaced his re-election marketing campaign in 2016 after struggling a stroke in 2012. And former Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) gained a 2000 Senate race after dying in a aircraft crash.

Though many Democrats nonetheless imagine Fetterman will eke out a win, there may be some inner Democratic hand-wringing over whether or not celebration leaders ought to have urged him to droop his marketing campaign months in the past. Democrats had till mid-August to exchange Fetterman on the poll by way of the Department of State within the occasion that he ended his bid.

One Pennsylvania Democratic insider in contrast the state of affairs to GOP officers’ lack of ability to cease Mastriano from capturing the gubernatorial nomination, regardless of their fears that he would lose the overall election. Fetterman gained the first by greater than 32 share factors, carrying each county, simply days after struggling a stroke.

“The Democratic establishment in Pennsylvania could not say to John Fetterman: ‘Are you going to be capable of running? And show me your medical records. And if not, you need to drop out,’” the particular person mentioned.

Casey mentioned such a transfer would have undermined “the will of the people” and that Fetterman made “the right decision.”

“We’re going to in our infinite wisdom as political leaders pluck someone and put them in as a nominee? There would have been an overwhelmingly adverse reaction to that,” he mentioned. “John’s going to win.”

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Author: Holly Otterbein and Burgess Everett