Fetterman has a path to victory a week after a tough debate

Fetterman has a path to victory a week after a tough debate

Democratic candidate John Fetterman has a path to victory in the Pennsylvania Senate race despite a deadlock in last week’s debate with Republican candidate Mehmet Oz that raised questions about his health months after a stroke he suffered in May, strategists and experts say.

The race has tightened significantly since mid-September, when Fetterman’s lead over Oz grew to as much as 10 points in the Marist poll, but Fetterman still has solid Democratic voters behind him in Pennsylvania, a state where there were 666,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in 2020

Senate Republican strategists believe Fetterman’s debate struggles have effectively ended his chances of victory in a race that has trended toward Oz for the past five weeks.

“It’s hard to imagine that any Pennsylvania voter who tuned into that debate saw Fetterman as their next United States senator,” said one Senate GOP strategist.

“I think we will win there. The public vote is starting to move in Oz’s direction,” the source added.

Fetterman had difficulty finding words at times and had to use a closed captioning system due to auditory processing issues related to this stroke. He repeated his statements at times during the debate, including in response to a question about fracking.

Some Democrats have questioned whether Fetterman should have gone through with the debate, but the candidate said in an interview this week that he thought it was important to do so.

“I always understood that it would not be easy. I’m five months into recovery from it, but I thought it was important to show up and I did. And at the end of the day, I think we made some important points,” Don told CNN’s Lemon.

Two polls by InsiderAdvantage and Wick Insights since the debate show Oz now slightly ahead of Fetterman, though critics say pollsters oversampled Republicans and their results should be viewed with skepticism.

An InsiderAdvantage poll conducted on Oct. 26 showed Oz with a 3-point lead, while a Wick Insights poll conducted on Oct. 26 and 27 showed Oz up by two points.

Poll watchers expected a new poll to come out Wednesday from Muhlenberg College that would shed more light on the tight race.

A Muhlenberg College poll of 420 likely voters conducted Sept. 13-16 showed Fetterman leading Oz 49 percent to 44 percent.

Independent pundits and strategists in both parties say the Senate race in Pennsylvania is still a toss-up and that Fetterman has a good chance of winning despite the debate.

“It was a poor performance, to put it mildly,” said Terry Madonna, a longtime nonpartisan pollster from Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at Millersville University.

But Madonna said Fetterman’s “support base is very solid” and predicted “there will be an empathetic reaction among his base of supporters.”

“The big question now is, does Oz get support, especially among Republicans and independents? One of the reasons he fell behind Fetterman was because Republican support wasn’t as strong as Fetterman’s among Democrats,” he added, describing the lingering effect of Oz’s campaign bruising against hedge fund executive David McCormick.

Berwood Yost, director of the Franklin & Marshall College poll, said he is looking forward to Wednesday’s Muhlenberg College poll results and expects them to show that “the race is close.”

“It’s pretty clear that Republicans should have a field day given how disaffected people are, and in our polling we’ve shown a generic Republican lead of 5 points,” he said.

Despite the favorable environment for Republicans, Oz failed to capitalize on the success that Fetterman and the Democrats had defined him at the start of the race.

“The main problem that Oz has is the perception that he views it unfavorably — minus 19 in our poll — and the fact that about half of Republicans wish they had another Republican to vote for,” Yost said. “You may feel like you’ve moved because of that debate, but I guess if there’s any movement, it’s probably going back” to where it was before.

“Historically, those voting problems don’t hold up,” he said.

Yost said he doesn’t think the debate was a fatal blow to Fetterman because there is a lack of consensus about what the candidate’s jumbled syntax means about his fitness for office.

Some voters say he’s “probably not capable,” while others say he’s “pretty brave to do it,” and some voters who favor Fetterman say the debate format doesn’t play to his strengths and that he’s better in other situations, Yost explained. .

Oz didn’t come out of the debate unscathed either.

Democratic operatives pounced on his statement that local political leaders should have a say in deciding abortion rights.

“I want the women, the doctors, the local political leaders to let the democracy that has always allowed our nation to progress to bring forth the best ideas so that the states can decide for themselves,” he said on stage.

Democrats have reframed it, arguing that the decision to have an abortion should be made by the woman, her doctor and local political leaders.

“Maybe in a way you could suggest that the biggest mistake in that debate was made by Oz, not Fetterman, in terms of his comment on abortion,” Yost said.

Strategists from both parties say the percentage of undecided voters who watched the debate is too small to make much of a difference in the outcome of the race. What matters more, they say, is how the theatrics of the debate feed into the ongoing narrative of the candidates and the campaign.

“I felt like a huge amount of discussion of the debate beforehand was like it was a linchpin of the campaign, and that’s just not the case. The number of undecided voters who will be watching the US Senate debate in two weeks is so small that it cannot even be measured,” said JJ Balaban, a Democratic strategist in Philadelphia.

Some Republican strategists acknowledge that the Pennsylvania Senate race remains very much a race, though some other advisers in their party are ready to call it over for Fetterman.

“It was just embarrassing to watch, but I think the reality of the situation is that, unfortunately, the debates just don’t have the impact that they might have had years ago,” said Vince Galko, who served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party in 2005 and as deputy director of George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign in the country.

He noted that a large number of Pennsylvanians have already voted in early voting and that people watching the debates are more likely to be “partisans” who “already know who they’re going to vote for anyway.”

But he argued that two things worked in Oz’s favor.

“Any undecided voter who watched that debate can’t help but walk away thinking that only one of the guys there is up to the task of being a U.S. senator and that the amount of coverage after…[debate] the coverage was outstanding,” added Galko. “I don’t remember a non-presidential debate getting as much coverage, not just in the state but nationally.”

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