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An Excruciating, Disqualifying Debate in Pennsylvania

Last night's Pennsylvania Senate debate was highly anticipated and potentially consequential, in an outsized way. It was the lone square-off in a highly-contested toss-up race that may well determine partisan control of Congress' upper chamber.  All eyes would be on the Democratic nominee, who suffered a stroke shortly before winning his spring primary. Heading into the forum, I offered a few thoughts about Democrats' expectations management -- possibly featuring some gamesmanship -- and Dr. Oz's resulting dilemma. 


Reasonable analysis, I thought: 

Then came the actual debate. The Fetterman campaign was not bluffing or artificially inflating their opponent's prowess, it turns out. It seems they knew how bad it was likely to be -- and it was very bad. I don't want to dunk on John Fetterman's health condition, which was and is self-evident.  Just watch.  The debate accentuated his literal, physical unfitness for high office, setting entirely aside his terrible record, history of hypocritical deadbeatism, and string of radical stances.  He labored to form coherent thoughts and often struggled to complete sentences.  It was difficult to watch, and I felt sorry for him at times, in spite of my profound opposition to his candidacy.  There have already been embarrassing attempts to gaslight and pretend what happened last night isn't what really happened, or that it's mean or cruel for people to notice.  The Democratic candidate's communications director decided to go with full-blown spin, loudly proclaiming how his guy had his best debate ever, while dropping F-bombs for emphasis (language warning):


Desperate, insulting, sad.  This Axios report sums up how Democrats were really feeling, behind closed doors:

Capitol Hill's reaction to the Pennsylvania Senate debate was brutal for Democratic nominee John Fetterman, from Democrats and Republicans alike. Multiple sources wondered why Fetterman agreed to debate when he clearly wasn’t ready. Fetterman struggled at times to respond to the moderators' questions, even with the assistance of a closed captioning device. "Why the hell did Fetterman agree to this?" one Democratic lawmaker and Fetterman backer told Axios. "This will obviously raise more questions than answers about John's health." ... Another Pennsylvania Democratic official worried: "Everyone is nervous. I've traveled everywhere. Fetterman is a deep concern. And this debate will only increase it." ... A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted before the debate found that 46% of respondents believed it's important for candidates to address Fetterman's health. It's hard to see how Fetterman's debate performance alleviated the concerns of the skeptics.


I've been of the opinion that Fetterman refusing to debate, or backing out, of the only such match-up would have been devastating for his campaign.  I'm now questioning whether avoidance or retreat could have been any worse for him than what transpired.  It was brutal.  He shouldn't have been out there, he was incapable of debating, and he shouldn't be running.  What's equally clear is that the NBC reporter who offered a small window into the Democrat's cognitive and communication issues was telling the truth.  The pile-on against her, led by the candidate's wife (who obviously knew she was telling the truth), was dishonest damage control.  Lefty media figures who claimed to have had extended, totally normal interactions with Fetterman post-stroke were being less than candid and forthcoming, to put it politely.  That Fetterman continues to refuse to release his medical records (he did so again in the debate) is a bigger red flag than ever.  The leftist's background, views, and record are why he shouldn't be anywhere near the US Senate.  The health problems are also an inescapable and glaring factor, more than ever.  The denials and evasions and spin made the big reveal worse.  And more transparency, much earlier, might have spared Democrats this possible costly implosion.


I've witnessed enough political insanity over the years to shy away from confident declarations that a close battleground race is "over," weeks before balloting ends (this was also my take on the Walker/abortion allegations in Georgia).  There remains a reasonable chance that Fetterman wins, in spite of everything.  But Oz was already surging in the weeks leading up to last night, and Fetterman's campaign was wheezing toward the finish line.  A debacle like that debate should, in my mind, end things.  But I wouldn't necessarily bet the farm that it will.  That said, Pennsylvania and national Democrats are probably hoping that a lot of people have already voted in this race, and that voters like this are few and far between:

As for Oz, he was...fine.  Good on some subjects, weaker on others.  Not bad for a first-time candidate in his first debate, but not exactly a memorable tour de force.  But he looked and sounded like a rational, plausible Senator.  Here was Oz's closing message, which was briefly interrupted by a Fetterman outburst:


I'll leave you with a few significant moments from some of the other noteworthy debates that also took place last night:

UPDATE - The Fetterman campaign is actually trying to blame the closed captioning?  Anyone who watched knows that was not the problem.  Here's News Nation's response, which includes an interesting detail:


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