Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos
A week ago, at just about this time, political analysts and observers were asking themselves: Would voters punish or reward Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman after an often-halting debate performance against Republican Mehmet Oz?
Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, and needs closed-captioning to compensate for auditory processing challenges, warned at the beginning of last Tuesday’s debate that he might mush together words or misspeak.
And now there’s an answer: A new New York Times/Siena College poll out Monday shows Fetterman with a 5-point lead, 49-44 percent, over Oz as the race heads into its final week.
The polls, which also show Democratic slight leads in the key states of Georgia and Nevada, come at a good time for Democrats, who are eyeing the 50-50 upper chamber as their best chance to retain a majority on Capitol Hill.
An analysis last week by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia rated the race as leans Democratic, noting that the nationally watched contest remains “fluid.” Fetterman holds a slender 1.5-point lead in the RealClear Politics polling average.
The University of Virginia analysis finds the overall fight for control of the upper chamber is a toss-up, with early voting already underway in two toss-up states: Nevada and Georgia, with “inconclusive results.”
“Democrats should be more worried about the races we have rated Leans Democratic than Republicans should be worried about those that we have rated Leans Republican,” analyst J. Miles Coleman wrote.
In Pennsylvania, Fetterman’s lead looks a lot like the similar advantage enjoyed by U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who is leading Republican Blake Masters by 6 percentage points in the new poll, but holds an average lead of 2.4 percent, according to RealClear Politics.
The key difference, according to Coleman, is that “Republicans are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Pennsylvania, but that is not happening in Arizona.”
Coleman goes on to observe that “there has been a lot of focus, justifiably we think, on questionable Republican Senate candidates this year. Oz is one of them — had Toomey run again or someone else been nominated, we doubt Fetterman ever would’ve seemed like a favorite to begin with.
“But if Fetterman loses to Oz, there will rightly be a lot of second-guessing in Democratic circles about the quality of Fetterman’s candidacy and whether the party should have gone with someone else (or whether Fetterman should have dropped out after his stroke, which he has been less than transparent about since it occurred),” Coleman concluded.
So where does that leave things overall?
The University of Virginia analysis has “Democrats and Republicans favored in 49 seats apiece, with Georgia and Nevada as Toss-ups.
But, if “Fetterman’s lead in Pennsylvania holds, Republicans will need to win both Toss-up races to reach an outright 51-seat majority — something they seem perfectly capable of doing,” Coleman wrote. “Democrats, who only need 50 seats, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, would only need to win one of the Toss-ups.”
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