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The Oz/Fetterman Debate May Not Have Changed Many Voters’ Minds

Will the train wreck of a debate seal John Fetterman’s fate and send Dr. Mehmet Oz into the U.S. Senate?

Other than party loyalists, the reviews of Fetterman’s performance have ranged from negative to brutal. Philly-based public relations pro Larry Ceisler compared Fetterman to a “boxer who could not defend himself against a smooth ring veteran. It was an unfair fight.”

Chris Kofinis, a veteran Democratic campaign strategist, was blunt: “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.”

But does that mean Fetterman is finished? During a “hot mic” moment with President Joe Biden Thursday in New York, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was overheard claiming, “Looks like the debate didn’t hurt us too much in Pennsylvania.”

One reason Fetterman’s struggles may not cause as much political damage as feared is that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters had cast their ballots before the debate.

And if those early voters have second thoughts, there is nothing they can do about it.

Linda A. Kerns, a Philadelphia lawyer, said, “Once your county election office receives your mail ballot, you have completed the voting process and cannot change your choices. If you show up to the polls in person, you will not be permitted to vote on the machine.

“Candidates and campaigns reveal more about themselves every day. When you vote by mail a month or more ahead of election day, you do not have the same information as those who wait. We should all vote on the same day in November except if you are sick or away on business,” said Kerns.

Villanova lawyer Wally Zimolong said, “If someone votes early and regrets it, there is nothing the voter can do. Voting early and having buyer’s remorse is the consequence of rushing to vote early. There are many reasons to get rid of voting early but I do not believe protecting people from ‘buyer’s remorse’ is one of them.”

And even with Fetterman’s clear challenges as he recovers from a late-April stroke, some Democrats will still choose him. Several Democrats told DelVal Journal they would vote for Fetterman because he is the Democratic candidate.

Cheltenham resident Elyse Ozer Fels said she would never vote for Oz. “He’s an outsider and I bet he’ll leave if he loses. I felt bad that Fetterman had to struggle. I will vote for him and watch as he continues his recovery. His mind is intact. He just can’t say it yet,” she said.

Penn Valley resident Melinda Jo Muzi said, “The debate was disgraceful. Fetterman’s team did not prepare him properly. He should’ve refused to debate and take the heat rather than show up and look so incompetent. Nevertheless, I would never vote for Oz. Couldn’t the Democrats have found a better candidate?”

Robin Kolodny, chair of Temple University’s political science department, does not believe the debate will have much effect on the close race.

“The truth is that debates do not change many people’s minds. Ever. And by people, I mean committed party loyalists who always vote. These are also the people who vote early. If you already sent in your ballot, you are saying that there is basically nothing the other side can say that would persuade you to vote for them.

“Undecided voters have to decide what matters to them. If it’s Fetterman’s recovery (fitness), then they will turn away from him. If it’s Oz’s positions (on abortion or support for Trump in 2024), then they will turn away from him,” she said.

Joe Foster, a Democratic state committeeman from Montgomery County concurred. “I could be wrong, but I don’t believe so, that is, those committed to voting for Fetterman, I believe will still vote for him,” said Foster.  “That said, it will make for a much tighter race as those who are undecided may be uncertain for Democrats. But I also believe that Dr. Oz said a lot of things last night, and while he said them well, when the focus turns on those comments he will lose votes. Among a lot to pick from, will be his mind-numbingly bad answer on a woman’s right to choose.”

But other Delaware Valley residents said they believe Fetterman’s poor debate performance is disqualifying.

Charlotte Ross of Waynesburg commented via Facebook, “How can this man fight for Pennsylvania when he can’t form and speak a complete sentence? How will he be able to debate on the Senate floor and negotiate with other senators to work on issues? He can’t. This man needs time to heal.”

Also on Facebook, Tanya Wakula Siletsky said, “I think his medical troubles unfortunately have not ended. This is why you vote on Election Day and in person as we always did prior to 2020.”

Andy Wilcox, of Norristown, who suffered a stroke a few months ago, said via Facebook: “Speaking firsthand, Fetterman’s condition has improved to almost as good as it is going to get. After the first several months of dramatic improvement, the progress will almost come to an end and any stress will bring the brain injury to the forefront…His disability is going to be permanent and there is no closed caption in Congress. And he is going to be unable to represent the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

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FLOWERS: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly of 2021

It’s a columnist tradition to write an “end of year” piece about the preceding 12 months, and put everything into focus and context. Many folks try and give a positive spin to catastrophic events, prompting the thought:  can you ever have too much hope? Others are matter of fact in their examination, while still others would find something to complain about even if Jesus came back to earth, gave everyone a blanket absolution and distributed loaves and fishes like Oprah delivering cars in her heyday. (It’s a joke. I already went to confession. Lighten up.)

I used to write that sort of column, obviously lacking in both creativity and ideas, but this year I decided to do something different. This year, I am going to focus on the one event that, for me, synthesized pretty much everything that’s been happening over the past 365 days.

I’ll call it The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and it refers to December 28th, the day that this country lost three of its most notable citizens. Each of them represents an aspect of this country that defines our complications, our virtues and our vices.

On that day, we lost John Madden, Harry Reid and Sarah Weddington.

The first two are fairly well known, and don’t really need an introduction. The last is not a household name, but she’s very familiar to those of us who fight for the lives and dignity of unborn children.

Let’s start with The Good.

John Madden is an example of the best this country has to offer in terms of human beings. He was big, brash, honest, authentic, funny, warm, and deceptively simple. This was a cross between Yogi Berra and Tom Brady, someone who had the gentle approachability of a loveable goofball but the steel-trap mind of a killer (or Super Bowl champion). Very few individuals personify the greatest game, football, the way that Madden did. For Philadelphians, we might hold out for John Facenda and that voice. For old-timers, it might be Vince Lombardi or even Tom Landry and their bespoke sobriety on the sidelines.

But Madden crossed generations, which is understandable since he’d been playing, talking about, coaching or simply breathing football since before I was born (and I just turned 60). He was a championship coach, an Emmy-winning broadcaster, a creative genius in the video game world and someone who loved the game with every sinew of that substantial body. To see someone who was so passionate about something so American, and know that he lived a life filled with grace and gratitude, is its own unique sort of blessing. He was, indeed, The Good.

It’s perhaps unfair to call Harry Reid “The Bad.” The former senate majority leader and longtime senator from Nevada was actually a very effective legislator, and someone who, in his own way, served the country that he loved. There’s nothing particularly “bad” in that. However, Reid was also a forerunner of that type of partisanship that morphed into what we see today. He was the sort of Democrat who wanted to win at all costs, did not brook opposition, could not work “nicely” with his colleagues on the other side, and who was as intransigent in his own way as Donald Trump showed himself to be years later. Reid was the Jurassic version of today’s “Squad,” just with more gravitas and less hair. I don’t mourn his loss as much as I mourn the loss of the civility he helped, in his own way, to destroy.

Which brings me to the ugly, the very, very ugly. Sarah Weddington was a woman of outward beauty, which contrasts so sharply with the body of her life’s work. Weddington’s name is well known in Pro Life circles, because she was the woman who, as a young lawyer in Texas, argued the case for legalizing abortion before the Supreme Court. She was successful, and the decision in Roe v. Wade is largely attributable to her legal skills as well as her legal dishonesty.

The case should never have come to the high court, since it was already moot by the time it was in the hands of the justices. Norma McCorvey, the nominal “Jane Roe,” was no longer pregnant at the time that the case was argued. There was no “pregnant woman” seeking an abortion before the court. There was no longer a “case and controversy” before the court, meaning that the whole thing was what we lawyers call “moot.” But Weddington ignored that, pushed on, and was the driving force behind the decision in Roe.

Harry Blackmun gets the credit (or the blame) for penning the majority decision, but had it not been for Weddington, who actively pursued this case so abortion would finally be legalized, we would not be here 49 years and millions of lost lives later. The great irony of Weddington’s death is that it fell on the Feast of Holy Innocents, a day that Catholics venerate in memory of the babies murdered by Herod when he learned that the Christ Child had been born. How fitting. I like to think those babies are at the Gates of Heaven, asking St. Peter to forgive Weddington, and let her in.

So this day, in the last week of a very difficult year, is what I think represents the arc of our lives in 2021. The Good, the (not so) Bad, and the Ugly.

That’s life.


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