Voices: Why Democrats aren’t sweating the Fetterman debate debacle

John Fetterman campaigning in Pennsylvania (AFP via Getty Images)
John Fetterman campaigning in Pennsylvania (AFP via Getty Images)

Despite all the alarm at John Fetterman’s performance against Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s Senate debate this week, Democrats don’t seem to be exactly hyperventilating.

Yesterday, a hot mic caught Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reassuring Joe Biden about the implications. “Looks like the debate didn’t hurt us too much in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and we’re picking up steam in Nevada.” That last part referred to the tight race between Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Adam Laxalt. (Real followers know it always comes down to the Silver State).

The Schumer-affiliated Senate Majority PAC is dropping more than $7.1m into Pennsylvania to shore up the Democratic lieutenant governor against the Republican television physician — its biggest expenditure yet — with less than two weeks before the polls close.

Fetterman will need every penny. Dr Oz pulled in $5.5m in the first 19 days of October (admittedly, that includes $1.5m he lent himself). Former president Donald Trump’s MAGA Inc Super PAC is dropping another $886,116, and Trump himself — whose endorsement of Dr Oz gave him the push he needed to narrowly win the Republican nomination in May — will make an appearance in Latrobe next Saturday.

But he won’t be the only ex-president on the trail. According to Hans Nichols at Axios, that same day, Barack Obama will head to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to rally for Fetterman and gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro.

That might assuage some fears that Fetterman’s performance during Tuesday evening’s debate, where he needed to use closed captioning, might have cost them their best chance to flip a Senate seat. In any case, Democratic “bed-wetting” in October is as familiar a part of the fall season as the changing of the leaves (as are those Democrats who tell their compatriots to calm down about it all).

Democrats’ eyes might have popped when they saw the toplines of an InsiderAdvantage poll conducted the day after the debate on Thursday evening that showed Dr Oz with a three-point lead. But Democratic pollster Tom Bonier tweeted that 358 of the 750 likely voters surveyed were between the ages of 40 and 64, one of the demographics most likely to vote Republican. The poll also only included a mere 67 African American voters in its sample.

John Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College and former Republican operative, put it best in a tweet to your reporter: “One-day polls are iffy at best. We probably need to wait a little longer to gauge the impact of the debate.” None of this is to say definitively that the poll is credible or not in itself; rather, that it should be treated with the same skepticism that any other data deserves.

Fetterman’s team, for their part, don’t seem to be sweating the debate performance. They put out a memo before it began that admitted debates were not their candidate’s strong suit; afterwards, they claimed to have raised $2m in just 24 hours after the encounter aired. And they also seem to think they were given a golden opportunity to attack Dr Oz when he told the moderator that “local political leaders” should be involved in decisions on abortion.

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