inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

As Fetterman Fumbles, Pundits Ask: Do Debates Still Matter?

NBC News reporter Dasha Burns’ revelation about Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman’s mental acuity has once again raised questions about his fitness for the job. It has also raised the stakes for his debate with Republican Mehmet Oz at the end of the month.

Burns, who recently interviewed Fetterman, received pushback from partisan members of the media when she reported that “in small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn’t clear he was understanding our conversation.” Due to the impact of a stroke he suffered in May, Fetterman only agreed to the interview if he could use a computer monitor with real-time closed captioning.

For weeks, Fetterman refused to agree to any debates. Now, the Oz campaign says, he has pushed it back so late that weeks of early voting will have taken place before the voters get to take the lieutenant governor’s measure in a one-on-one with his opponent.

“John Fetterman will do anything to keep voters in the dark about his radical policies, even if that means delaying a debate until the last minute, lying about his health, and robbing voters of their right to hear directly from both candidates,” said Oz spokesperson Rachel Tripp. “If John Fetterman won’t even do voters the courtesy of answering their questions, why would they trust him to fight for them in Washington? Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who will answer tough questions and address issues head-on – Dr. Mehmet Oz.”

Fetterman pushed back on Twitter: “Recovering from a stroke in public isn’t easy. But in January, I’m going to be much better–and Dr. Oz will still be a fraud.”

Asked if he still plans to debate, Fetterman said, “Well, yeah, of course I’m going to show up on the 25th.”

Agreeing to a single debate is a sign Fetterman is unfit, his critics say. But in the post-Trump political era, do debates still matter?

Fetterman is hardly alone in avoiding debates this cycle. In Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker will only debate Sen. Raphael Warnock once, limiting the number of questions he is likely to face over allegations he paid for a woman’s abortion.

And in Arizona, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs is refusing to appear on stage with her GOP opponent Kari Lake even once. Not surprisingly, Lake is making an issue of Hobb’s refusal to give voters the basic courtesy of facing a nominee chosen by thousands of Arizona voters.

“I have no desire of the spectacle that she’s looking to create,” Hobbs told CBS News, adding that she is “happy with where we are.”

“Where she is” is trailing her Republican opponent by one point in the RealClearPolitics average.

And here in Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Doug Mastriano is also a “no” on debates thus far — not that his opponent, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, is pushing to make one happen.

On Dom Giordano’s Phil-based radio show earlier this week, Mastriano said he’s happy to debate Shapiro. He just doesn’t want to have to debate the liberal media, too. He used the example of Gov. Tom Wolf (D)  debating Republican Scott Wagner with the late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek moderating. Trebek interjected his own opinions into the debate, Mastriano said.

He wants a debate where he and Shapiro pick their own moderators to ask questions, without any media bias.

“All the media would be welcome and then there is no bias. They could live-stream it all, whatever they want to do with it. We just want a fair platform. Josh Shapiro could even bring Donna Brazile. She could give him the questions in advance like she did Hillary Clinton. I don’t care. As a (former) military intelligence officer standing before generals, presidents, prime ministers, and handling tough issues of life and death, this would be a piece of cake,” Mastriano said.

More and more, however, pundits question the value of debates.

According to Larry Sabato, who oversees “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, candidates can “get away with canceling debates without much of a penalty.”

Sabato told ABC News that debates over debates “have become a permanent part of campaigning, and most people just tune it out because it doesn’t affect their lives. It has no real impact on your campaign or your likelihood to win.”

New England-based GOP strategist Patrick Griffin has a similar viewpoint.

“In the days of yore, when I was a young political hack, debates were all the rage. Everyone studied and practiced, debate prep was a serious thing mainly because voters watched. A gaffe could be deadly. Catching that hitch moment and seeing replay in ads again and again created a win-or-lose destiny for candidates,” Griffin said.

Not today.

“This election, like so many in recent years voters are too angry and impatient to listen to what they consider to be bs from both sides. Nobody has the time or interest — except for about a third of Democrats and a third of Republicans already firmly rooted in one camp or the other,” Griffin said.

Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin and Marshall College, bemoaned the decline of debates but said he understands the political strategy.

“I think candidates for public office should engage in debates,” Yost told DVJournal. “It is not unusual for candidates who have a comfortable lead to try to avoid debating because they often feel they have more to lose than gain from them.”

Are these candidates right?

“Past experience shows that debates do not usually change the trajectory of a race, but I think candidates are less interested in debates because it makes it potentially more difficult for them to control the messages that emerge if they misspeak.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

FLOWERS: Telling the Truth About Fetterman’s Health Isn’t A Partisan Attack

Before he became president, John F. Kennedy was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, serving despite his debilitating chronic back pain and suffering from Addison’s disease. JFK still got the job done, well enough to become president of the United States.

And to paraphrase the late Texas Sen. Lloyd Benson, “Lt. Gov. Fetterman, you’re no JFK.”

A politician can serve despite struggling with health conditions. Ronald Reagan was called The Great Communicator, and yet by most credible accounts, he was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease by the end of his second term. Franklin Roosevelt’s polio, while not a complete secret from the public, was cleverly hidden from view during his dozen years in office with the tacit complicity of the news media who rarely photographed or filmed him sitting in a wheelchair.

John Fetterman differs from them in some important ways. The most important is this: FDR, JFK, and Reagan were all elected while still in good health (at least as far as the public knew). The former mayor of Braddock is asking voters to give him their trust despite an illness that he acknowledges is impacting his mental acuity, an illness we, the people, can see impacting him right now.

It’s not a political attack or personal criticism to acknowledge a fact: Democrats have nominated a man to hold one of our two U.S. Senate seats who barely survived a near-death experience less than five months ago.

I find the attempts of his campaign and supporters to cover for his health unforgivable for several reasons.

First, and most importantly, voters deserve a full explanation of his current medical condition, not the rosy press releases regurgitated about how he’s “improving.” I’ll readily admit I’m not a doctor and I won’t play one on TV (or the interwebs). But you don’t need to be Dr. House — or even Dr. Phil — to wince as Fetterman fumbles for his words, appearing detached and disconnected, looking confused when asked questions and moving more slowly than the average man his age.

One of my friends, a nurse with decades in rehabilitative care, told me that while she obviously hadn’t examined Fetterman and doesn’t know the specifics of his stroke, “In general, I know that once someone has a stroke, the risk of having a second significantly increases.”

How will this impact Fetterman’s ability to represent Pennsylvania? To represent us? Fetterman attacks his opponent for being “from NJ;” but if given the choice, I think most of us would prefer a healthy Jersey boy to an impaired native son.

Another issue is the callousness of Fetterman’s team. They (and he) seem to be so focused on winning that they’re putting political ambitions ahead of his family obligations as a husband and a father to young children.

He’s ill. It’s obvious. And it’s inconceivable to me that the people who are supposed to care about him would allow him to push forward under those conditions.

As I wrote on Facebook, “I can’t stand the man and I have compassion. No one on the left will believe this, but it’s not purely about politics. Put in Conor Lamb, he could be a formidable Oz opponent. This is about simple human decency. The man is sick. Is the left selling its soul for a Senate win? Is that what matters? They could still win honorably, with a healthy candidate.”

Despite what some on the left are saying, it is not below the belt to question Fetterman’s health. It is legitimate. It is also compassionate. The physical and mental abilities of Pennsylvania’s junior senator must be at the highest levels.

We deserve competence. John Fetterman deserves attention. I’m glad that, slowly, people are coming to that realization.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal

Fetterman Suffers Stroke, Misses Campaign Event in Hatfield

Gabby Deardorff of Royersford and some 100 fellow John Fetterman supporters were gathered at Imprint Brewing, a brewpub in Hatfield, Friday evening. They hoped to see the lieutenant governor and cheer his race for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. Then a campaign aide made a brief announcement that the candidate wasn’t feeling well, and the event was canceled.

Some supporters stayed to have a beer and a bite to eat, taking a “these things happen” view of the news.

Fetterman revealed on Sunday he had suffered a stroke.

“The good news is I’m feeling much better and the doctors tell me that I didn’t suffer any cognitive damage,” said Fetterman. “I’m well on my way to a full recovery. So there is a lot to be thankful for.”

Deardorff told DVJournal Friday night she supports Fetterman “because he’s a progressive.”

“I’m frustrated with the Democratic Party catering to the moderate middle, and I think we need more progressive leaders.”

(From left) Chelsie Smith, Karen Weingarten and Gabby Deardorff

Deardorff and Upper Providence resident Karen Weingarten are both Springford Area School Board members. Fetterman recently came to one of their campaign events.

“I think (Fetterman) is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He came out to an event for us. He was really supportive of local politics,” Weingarten said. “He’s easy to talk to. When he spoke at our event, you could tell he was genuine and unscripted.”

“I’m supporting Gisele and Levi,” joked Chelsie Smith,  a reference Fetterman’s wife and dog. Fetterman “was a mayor of a small town, and he has seen local government and moved his way through and seen what we have in Harrisburg. He knows what we need in D.C. We need a progressive person. We can’t do middle-of-the-road anymore.”

Dennis Trainer

Richard Detwiler of Souderton Borough said he is impressed with Fetterman’s “ability to be a normal person.”

Sarah Detwiler and Richard Detwiler

“I’m supporting anybody who is running for Senate who is not a Republican,” said Detwiler. “We can’t stand by and watch the world go to Trump.” Detwiler added that he had been an independent for years because of the Vietnam War but decided to become a Democrat.

“There was no way I could vote for (the parties of) Johnson or Nixon,” he said.

His daughter, Sarah Detwiler of Philadelphia, said she supports Fetterman as well.

“He doesn’t represent the Democratic establishment,” she said. “He’s a real person, not a politician.”

Dennis Trainer of Glenside said, “I just think he’s a good guy.” Referencing Fetterman’s biography, Trainer added, “He’s compassionate. He came to Braddock because he lost a friend.” Eventually, he ran for mayor to confront the crime problem.

As Trainer spoke with DVJournal, a man who saw the word “veteran” on Trainer’s baseball cap approached and thanked him for his service. Trainer turned the cap around, revealing that it was a political message:

“Veteran of the Class War.”

 

Follow us on social media: Twitter: @DV_Journal or Facebook.com/DelawareValleyJournal