Dear Commons Community,
After getting their first long look at John Fetterman in Tuesday night’s Pennsylvania Senate debate, fellow Democrats are second-guessing his decision to appear on stage five months after a stroke — and some question whether he should have remained on the ballot at all. As reported by NBC News.
“He should not have debated. Anyone on his team who agreed to a debate should be fired, or never work again, because that debate may have tanked his campaign,” said Chris Kofinis, a veteran Democratic campaign strategist. “This race was trending toward victory. Now, it’s anyone’s guess what happens.”
Several Democrats who spoke to NBC News, some on the condition of anonymity, said they were shocked by the degree to which Fetterman struggled to communicate clearly, even though he has acknowledged ongoing difficulty in processing what he hears and speaking without dropping words.
Oz himself seemed to poke at Fetterman’s struggles on the debate stage, wondering aloud at one point if he “wasn’t clear enough” for his opponent to “understand” him. Fetterman’s allies have accused critics of boosting “ableist” rhetoric about the candidate, insisting that he is moving along in his recovery just fine and noting that two current Democratic senators have recovered from recent strokes with little concern about their ability to perform the job.
But by yesterday morning, many Democrats were in a panic over his performance. And there were fresh questions about how transparent Fetterman has been through a months-long recovery that continues to present communication challenges less than two weeks before Election Day.
“Folks are pretty much freaking out on the Dem side,” Khari Mosley, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic consultant and grassroots activist, said via text message. “I think there was false hope he’d thread the needle last night so some wind was taken out of the sails. In many ways that’s the first time many [people] got to see the phenomenon known as John Fetterman, not the best timing for the biggest stage of his life.”
One Democrat who has been in touch with the Fetterman campaign said it erred in not having him do more events and interviews sooner, to better acclimate voters to the challenges he was facing and to make the incremental improvements in his recovery more visible in real time. Fetterman, after spending much of the summer off the campaign trail, began ramping up his activity in the weeks leading up to the debate.
“Their team has been ignoring what tons of strategists and insiders have been saying for months: We’ve expressed our concerns many, many times about being more transparent,” the source said, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the race. “It’s OK to have a medical issue — you just have to be transparent about it.”
The alarm is also acute in Democratic circles beyond Pennsylvania.
“It was startling,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide who has worked on political campaigns. “I really question the judgment that he continued with this race.”
But with partisan control of the 50-50 Senate hanging in the balance, Democrats have little choice but to hope that Fetterman’s platform matters more to voters than his performance. He has little room for error: The FiveThirtyEight‘s review of recent polls suggests he holds a 2.3 percentage point lead over Republican Mehmet Oz, a margin that has narrowed appreciably since Labor Day.
That puts Democrats in a bind: They don’t want to criticize him because they believe victory is within his grasp. And Fetterman’s campaign, eager to project strength, said yesterday that it had raised $2 million since the debate ended
“There’s always second-guessing,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said on MSNBC Wednesday. “And I know Democrats sometimes invent things to worry about at the end of a campaign. … I think it was the right decision to have both candidates appear together and answer questions.”
Fetterman on Wednesday night acknowledged his debate performance during a rally in Pittsburgh with the musician Dave Matthews.
“To be honest, doing that debate wasn’t exactly easy,” Fetterman told the audience. “Knew it wasn’t going to be easy after having a stroke after five months. In fact, I don’t think that’s ever been done before in American political history.”
A fan in the crowd shouted: “We still love you!”
I hope there is enough love for him to win the election!