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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Fetterman Flops
      •  House Progressives Screw Up
      •  Congressional Republicans Have Drama, Too
      •  Alaska Soap Opera Just Keeps Going
      •  The Strangest Poll of this Cycle
      •  California Uber Alles
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Fetterman Flops

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's (D-PA) goal last night was to assuage concerns that his recent stroke has left him too incapacitated to serve as a U.S. senator. To be blunt: Mission not accomplished.

We can't find anywhere that the whole debate has been posted, but The Washington Post has put together a "highlights" reel that's about 3 minutes long:

As you can see, even in this brief excerpt, Fetterman's answers were generally brief, and halting. He garbled his words, starting at the beginning, when in his opening statement he wished everyone "good night." If that had been "good evening," it would have been unremarkable, but those sorts of linguistic subtleties are apparently part of what the stroke has taken from him (at least for now). Fetterman often repeated himself, and struggled to express any sort of nuance in terms of policy ideas. In particular, he came out at as seemingly the world's biggest fan of fracking. Pro-fracking is essential in Pennsylvania, but it's controversial, so a politician generally handles that question very delicately. Fetterman was incapable of delicacy last night.

The reviews of Fetterman's performance were... poor. A sampling:

  • Amanda Carpenter, The Bulwark: "Those of you who believe in participation trophies ought to order one for John Fetterman. That's about the only award he merits for his performance Tuesday night in Pennsylvania's first and only 2022 Senate debate. There's no delicate way to put this: Fetterman was, at times, barely coherent."

  • Julia Manchester, The Hill: "Fetterman particularly struggled to answer a question about whether he supported fracking. Pressed on how he squared his past comments in 2018 in which he voiced opposition to the practice with his current support for it, Fetterman offered a halting response. 'I... I do support fracking... and... I don't, I don't... I support fracking and I stand and I do support fracking.'"

  • Josh Kraushaar, Axios: "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."

  • David Bossie, Fox: "Due in large part to the lack of transparency about his health and his shaky efforts on the campaign trail, all eyes were rightly on Fetterman Tuesday night. His halting and unconvincing performance in the debate makes clear that he still has a long way to go in his rehabilitation."

  • Kipp Jones, Mediaite: "Democratic Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman struggled to communicate during Tuesday's debate with Mehmet Oz during the fifth month of his recovery from a stroke. The state's lieutenant governor spent most of the debate laboring to convey basic answers and appeared unable to keep up."

We've also heard from plenty of readers. A few of those:

  • G.C. in Alexandria, VA: "Watching live. Ouch! I'm sure Fetterman will recover, in time. But 'undecided' voters will vote Oz."

  • E.L. in Dallas, TX: "I cannot believe that anyone involved with Fetterman's campaign could have thought it was a good idea to debate Oz. Allowing him onto the stage tonight was complete malpractice committed by all of his advisors. They had to have had practice debates or some sort of prep. There is no way Fetterman could have performed adequately with short replies. It was immediately obvious that cogent 15- or 30-second replies are not possible for him. A long-form question and answer may have been possible, but the cross-talking between Oz with the hosts combined with the short response times caused Fetterman to seem confused and unable to communicate well.

    "I am a physician. I cannot diagnose a person that is not my patient, and Fetterman would need extensive neurocognitive testing that would take hours, and would need to be performed in an adequate environment. I have no idea if Fetterman is fit to serve as a Senator, but historically the bar has been quite low as far as cognitive abilities (there is at least one Senator, from a state in which one of the two of you resides, that has questionable abilities at this time). He is able to memorize and recite talking points well, and this was evident during the portion on abortion. It was not clear to me that he was able to understand some or even most of the follow up questions. What is clear to me is that he does not have the ability to participate in a timed debate, and should not have been placed in that position. I can only postulate that when his campaign agreed, they thought his ability to process speech and respond to questions would be much improved. Why they decided not to back out, will be a question that strategists will discuss for the next month.

    "Oz appeared as a well-dressed, well-spoken, television personality. Fetterman was wearing an ill-fitting suit, had difficulty speaking in smooth sentences, and reminded me most of Phil Hartman's parody of Admiral Stockdale's performance in the vice-presidential debate.

    "You often state that debates rarely influence an election, if the debate tonight does not, then it is likely no debate ever could."

  • S.R. in Kansas City, MO: "Fetterman just lost Pennsylvania Senate seat."

So, bad news for Fetterman. That said, could there be a silver lining? Maybe. His campaign is making the case that he deserves credit for showing up, and that a lesser candidate would have remained in hiding. Maybe some voters will find that persuasive. There might also be a sympathy reaction, since most people have had health issues at one point or another, and many people have personal or familial experience with strokes. Oz may have helped encourage a sympathy response with a couple of backhanded remarks about Fetterman's cognitive abilities, as well as his very obvious strategy of using chatter to try to throw Fetterman off.

And that brings us to Oz's performance. In contrast to E.L. in Dallas, we don't think he had a great night. He came off as smarmy and arrogant. He gave answers that moderates will find off-putting, such as pledging his support to a Trump 2024 campaign, should that come to pass. And he absolutely botched a question on abortion, expressing his opinion that the federal government should not be involved and that it's between "a woman, her doctor and local political leaders." That was apparently supposed to be a "moderate" viewpoint, but is there anyone who finds that answer to be acceptable? One side most certainly wants the federal government involved and the other most certainly does not want local political leaders calling the shots.

In any event, Republicans nationally are now thinking that Pennsylvania may be their best chance at regaining the majority, as Herschel Walker continues to flail about. So, even before the debate (and perhaps anticipating a poor performance for Fetterman), Republican PACs committed to another $6 million in spending in the Keystone State. One wonders if that figure will be increased today, given what came to pass on the debate stage last night. (Z)

House Progressives Screw Up

Earlier this week, 30 of the 100 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), including Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal, sent an "open letter" to Joe Biden, urging him to rethink his approach to Ukraine. The bottom line, as laid out in the conclusion of the letter:

In conclusion, we urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America's chief priority.

The whole letter is only a page and a half, so you might consider clicking on the link above and reading the whole thing.

In any event, this is an unbelievable misstep, on a number of levels. To wit:

  • "Open letters" are, pretty much 100% of the time, stupid gimmicks. Negotiating in public rarely makes things easier.

  • The letter served, just weeks before the election, to undermine the Democrats' message that they are squarely unified behind Ukraine, and seeing this thing through to the end. That plays right into Republicans' hands.

  • The letter will also encourage Vladimir Putin, if he thinks that the political party leading the nation that is leading the anti-Russian coalition is showing cracks in its facade. There is a very real possibility that, by indicating to the Russian that this is the time to get aggressive, people will die due to this letter.

  • The Caucus' demands are, to be frank, meaningless nonsense. Read that paragraph above again. What, exactly, is the Caucus pushing for that the Biden administration isn't already doing?

  • Once this story blew up, and the CPC came under wide criticism, Jayapal withdrew the letter, and claimed that it was written months ago and was inadvertently released by a careless staffer. Problem 1: The letter is dated October 24, not August 1 or July 15. Problem 2: Jayapal and 29 of her colleagues signed it. Do they make a habit of signing letters they haven't bothered to read? Problem 3: Passing the buck on screw-ups to "a staffer" is a pretty low-rent move. Jayapal might want to consult a biography of Harry S. Truman to learn where the buck actually stops.

  • It has since come out that, in fact, Jayapal personally approved the letter. So not only was she behaving in a tacky manner when she blamed "a staffer," she was lying.

We are struggling to understand what benefit Jayapal and her colleagues hoped to derive from this letter. Keeping in mind that they almost all represent deep-blue districts, they are largely not in danger of losing their reelection bids. And if they are (since progressive voters tend to be anti-war), then announcing "I signed a letter that is going to produce absolutely no change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine" isn't going to save their bacon.

Alternatively, it's possible that the CPC wants an actual change in policy, and concluded that this was the time when their leverage was at its most substantial. But again, the letter doesn't propose any sort of clear or meaningful suggestions for how Biden could be doing better. It's just a bunch of mealy-mouthed claptrap of the sort that anyone can crap out onto a piece of paper. It's like people who reflexively display the "peace" sign. Pretty much everyone supports peace, but that doesn't mean anything without a plan to get there.

In any event, this is going to have some consequences. There's the shot-in-the-arm for Republicans and for Putin, as described above. On top of that, the gulf between the CPC and the other Democrats in the House just got a bit wider. And finally, Jayapal was jockeying for a leadership position in the next Congress, particularly if the octogenarians retire and leave a bunch of openings. It is inconceivable that Jayapal is going to get a promotion now. (Z)

Congressional Republicans Have Drama, Too

The Democratic side of the aisle is not the only place to have some infighting right now. The Republicans have some too, though it is much more inside baseball. In short, the competition to be the next House Republican Whip has turned nasty.

The Whip is, at the moment, the second-highest-ranking position in Republican leadership, behind only the House Minority Leader. The current whip is Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who expects to become the next House Majority Leader in January when Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) becomes Speaker of the House. In other words, the Whip position will only come available if Republicans retake the House. But several prominent Republicans like the odds of that happening, and so three of them—Reps. Tom Emmer (MN), Jim Banks (IN) and Drew Ferguson (GA)—have thrown their hats in the ring.

In truth, the race is really between Emmer and Banks. Emmer is the more moderate of the two, though "more moderate" is a relative term in the modern GOP. Both men are election deniers, for example. And as the two have elbowed for position, a GOP House staffer, who was granted anonymity, had a chat with The Daily Beast. And that staffer said, in effect, that Banks is a loser who will do anything to be loved by the movers and shakers of the Republican Party. As evidence of this, the staffer pointed out that Banks hired Buckley Carlson, the unqualified 24-year-old son of Tucker Carlson, as communications director in order to kiss up to the Fox host.

As you might imagine, Carlson, the same man who is obsessed with Hunter Biden, reacted angrily to the Daily Beast story. First, parents tend to be defensive when it comes to their kids. Second, hypocrites tend to behave badly when called out on their hypocrisy. And Carlson, who knows a thing or two about using the media to spread your message without necessarily putting your name to it, believes Emmer was behind the Daily Beast quotes.

So, Carlson got on the phone with Emmer and laid down the law: Find the "staffer" who talked to the Daily Beast or else I will blame you. Emmer, who won't be appearing in the next edition of Profiles in Courage, was cowed, and stammered that it wasn't him or anyone in his office. Taking a page from the Jayapal playbook (see above), he attempted to blame some unknown staffer, in some non-Emmer Republican's office.

And then there is Donald Trump Jr. He never misses an opportunity to do a little chest-thumping. Plus, he has so much energy these days... for some reason. So, he waded in to defend the Carlsons and to savage Emmer. He bravely did this via Twitter, showing that he's learned at least a few things from his old man.

Although it's not quite there yet, this is headed to a place where the vote for whip will be a Trump-party-line affair. If you're with the former president, you better vote Banks, or you are at risk of ridicule from The Family and from Carlson. Given the current state of the Republican Party in general, and of the House Republican Conference in particular, that is a losing proposition for Emmer. So, it's no wonder he is prostrating himself before Carlson. And it would not be surprising if Emmer "discovers" that some random staffer in his office is "guilty," and fires that staffer. (Z)

Alaska Soap Opera Just Keeps Going

As is indicated by our third item in as many days, the politics of Alaska are very interesting. There are some Democrats there, and a lot of independents, and a fair number of moderate Republicans, and a very visible far-right MAGA rump. Because the overall population is small, and these factions are somewhat open to split-ticket voting, unusual things can, and do, happen in Alaska elections.

Today's news is courtesy of that far-right MAGA rump. As we noted yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) endorsed Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) over Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III. This infuriated the MAGA rump, who control the Alaska GOP apparatus. But what to do? They could censure Murkowski, but they already did that back in March.

In desperate search of a target for their opprobrium, the Alaska GOP has settled on... Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). After all, he has endorsed Murkowski, and has routed $5 million to Alaska for her reelection campaign. So, he's clearly a part of the problem. And so yesterday, the Alaska Republicans voted to censure McConnell, 49-8.

It's hard to assign too much significance to a decision made by a group of just 57 people. On the other hand, that's 57 more votes that it takes to be elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in some cases, so maybe we should be describing it as a mandate. In any case, the censure of a party organ 4,000 miles from Washington (or 4 miles from Washington, for that matter), has no real meaning. Indeed, if we were McConnell, we'd be trying to acquire a copy of the document so we could frame it for our office wall. However, it does once again raise the question: How long can the MAGA faction and the non-MAGA faction stay together, before the Republican Party is blasted apart at the seams? Because the MAGA folks just keep getting more extreme and more willing to act on their predilections. (Z)

The Strangest Poll of this Cycle

There have been some very odd polls this cycle, as is always the case. But the one released by Susquehanna yesterday really takes the cake. We can't imagine a poll that would cause us to scratch our heads more than this one.

The poll was commissioned by The Federalist, and their goal was to have some numbers to prove that Joe Biden is an unpopular loser who will never get elected president again. And if you read that outlet's write-up, then the mission was technically a success: "As for President Joe Biden's personal favorability ratings, the poll found that 45 percent of voters approve of the job Biden is doing as president while 49 percent say they disapprove. Regardless of their personal interpretation of Biden's track record, voters decisively disapprove of how Biden has handled key issues such as inflation (52 percent), gas prices (51 percent), immigration (49 percent), and crime (47 percent)."

That is what is known, however, as burying the lede. First of all, contrary to the hopes and dreams of The Federalist, Biden is still more electable than Trump. The results say that 48% of voters would vote for the President if the election was held today while just 44% would vote for Trump. No real surprise here, though; Trump got 46% of the vote in 2016 and 47% in 2020. So, 44% is right in the ballpark of his ceiling, especially since there is the small matter of the Trump-encouraged insurrection that took place following the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris' approval ratings are even worse than Biden's; she's at 33% favorable and 52% unfavorable. So, while Biden is 4 points underwater, Harris is 19 points underwater. Also not a surprise; Harris has not had a great vice presidency so far, has gotten a lot of negative coverage, and some Americans are not big fans of women and/or people of color. But here is where we get to the head-scratcher. When respondents were asked whom they would pick between Harris and Trump, if the 2024 election were held today, 54% went for Harris versus 39% for Trump. So, Biden is apparently +4 on Trump while Harris is +15. Huh?

At risk of being immodest, we're generally pretty good at coming up with theories that might explain things that don't seem to make sense. But we are absolutely stumped here. Are there really people who disapprove of Harris, and approve of Biden, but who would only vote for Harris for president? Are there really Trump voters who are not willing to vote for Biden, but who would gladly check the box for Harris?

All we can come up with is "coding error." But we doubt that, since any pollster would double- and triple- check a result like this. So, we're open to suggestions if anyone can make sense of it. The link above has all the crosstabs.

Meanwhile, it is at least possible that what the poll is revealing is that for the majority of American voters, they rank their choices like this:

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Joe Biden
  3. Any Democrat who is not Joe Biden

If so, that would obviously be very good news for the blue team. (Z)

California Uber Alles

For Republicans, California is often used as the symbol of everything that is wrong with Democratic/liberal policies. In fact, in his California history class, (Z) has a lecture on California stereotypes. And the reading for that lecture is a series of news articles with ridiculous claims that Republican politicians and media members have made about California, including: California schoolchildren are required to study Islam (Rush Limbaugh, 2002), California has banned the sale of black automobiles (Rushbo again, 2009), Nancy Cartwright (a.k.a. Bart Simpson) has been elected mayor of Northridge (Fox, 2005), and California universities are forbidden from teaching U.S. history (Rick Santorum, 2008).

This Californiphobia continues today; it is extremely common for those on the right to refer to the state as a "wasteland" or "out of control" or "a disaster." The favorite term these days, however, is "failed state." (In the interest of fairness, we must note that liberals do the same thing, except with Texas as their exemplar.)

Anyhow, those who are determined to tear the Golden State down got some unpleasant news this week. Bloomberg has crunched the numbers, and says that the state either already has, or will soon have, the fourth-largest economy in the world. That means that Germany either is, or soon will be, in the rear-view mirror and that Californians are now looking up at only Japan, China and the rest of the United States.

This is not to say that California doesn't have its problems. But we would be interested to learn about the state that does not have any issues at all (OK, maybe Hawaii). The fact of the matter is that, far from being proof that liberal/Democratic policies don't work, California seems to suggest that they do. It's entirely plausible that the state's economy is being substantially aided by its excellent climate, abundant resources, and fertile land. But it's clearly not a failure, and it's dishonest to pretend otherwise. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

In case you didn't already know, the races that will determine control of the Senate are pretty much all going to be nail-biters. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 49% Herschel Walker 47% Oct 13 Oct 17 East Carolina U.
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 49% Herschel Walker 47% Oct 13 Oct 18 East Carolina U.
North Carolina Cheri Beasley 45% Ted Budd 49% Oct 17 Oct 20 Marist Coll.
Nevada Catherine Cortez-Masto* 44% Adam Laxalt 42% Oct 12 Oct 19 Univision
Nevada Catherine Cortez-Masto* 47% Adam Laxalt 45% Oct 12 Oct 19 BSP Research/Shaw & Co.
Nevada Catherine Cortez-Masto* 49% Adam Laxalt 47% Oct 22 Oct 23 Phillips Academy
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 51% Mehmet Oz 49% Oct 21 Oct 24 YouGov

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct25 Prime Minister Gerald Ford
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