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Voices: With five days to go till the midterms are over, all eyes are on Pennsylvania

Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman campaigns in Philadelphia  (AP)
Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman campaigns in Philadelphia (AP)

With five days left of the midterm cycle, your reporter is hitting the road for one last trip before Election Day. My destination: Pittsburgh – and not just because I’m a fan of the sandwiches doled out by Primanti Brothers (though I am). It’s because this weekend, the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area will be the centre of political gravity for both Democrats and Republicans.

Former president Donald Trump will head to Latrobe (the hometown of Mister Rogers) to ask whether Pennsylvanians will be neighbours with gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Senate nominee and television doctor Mehmet Oz. Barack Obama will also be in Pittsburgh to campaign for Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman and will join his former deputy Joe Biden in Philadelphia to rally for Fetterman and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro.

All three presidents have won the commonwealth (Eagles fans will rough you up like Santa Claus if they hear you calling it a state) at least once: Obama in 2008 and 2012; Trump in 2016, making him the first Republican to carry it since 1988; and Biden, a native of Scranton, in 2020.

Obama’s enduring influence on the party has come to the fore in Pennsylvania this cycle. When your reporter went to an event with Shapiro in September, he invoked Obama’s famous battle cry: “Don’t boo. Vote.” And Democratic state legislator Malcolm Kenyatta, who earlier ran against Fetterman, told me earlier this week that “President Obama is one of the best closers we have.”

As if it weren’t enough to have two Democratic presidents in town, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is also making his way to Pittsburgh on Sunday to campaign for Summer Lee, who is running for Pennsylvania’s open 12th congressional district. The seat should be safely Democratic, but Lee, a progressive in the mould of the Squad, faces a few troubles. First, her Republican opponent Mike Doyle shares a name with the Democratic congressman who is vacating the seat at the end of this term. Second and much more concerning, throughout the primary, two outside groups spent a total of $3m and accused her of being anti-Israel.

Now, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s PAC, the United Democracy Project, is spending money opposing her, The Intercept reports. (It should be noted that Sanders is Jewish; as a young man, he lived on a kibbutz in Israel but also criticised Israel’s government).

In more encouraging news for Democrats, it looks like the reports of the death of Fetterman’s candidacy after his debate performance were greatly exaggerated. A Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll recently found that Fetterman led Dr Oz by one point. Then, Monmouth University’s poll showed that Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer was right: the debate did not hurt Fetterman too much. A combined 48 per cent of registered voters say they will either definitely or probably vote for Fetterman, compared with 44 per cent for Oz. Only 3 per cent of voters said that the debate affected their vote.

That doesn’t mean Fetterman is out of the woods. A Fox News poll found that 51 per cent of registered voters said the debate was a factor in their vote. The number of voters who said they were concerned he was not healthy enough to do the job also jumped from 23 per cent in July to 39 per cent now. Still, 45 per cent said they would prefer Fetterman to Oz. Meanwhile, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll showed Fetterman had only a 2-point lead – and 62 per cent of voters thought Oz won the debate.