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.”