What We’re Watching In Tonight’s Senate Debate

It might be the most anticipated debate in Pennsylvania history as Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz meet in what is scheduled to be their only debate in the chase for the U.S. Senate seat in the Keystone State.

Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, has sat atop every poll in the Commonwealth since May but the gap has narrowed in recent days. Oz, the celebrity doctor, has successfully battled back from a significant deficit by hammering the Democrat on crime and inflation.

 

We asked two political scientists from Pennsylvania colleges on what they are looking for from the two candidates tonight.

“I will be watching to see if Oz can shed his carpetbagger image and also appeal to a broad range of independent voters sufficiently enough to win the election,” said John Kincaid, professor of government and public service at Lafayette College. “Because the race has tightened, the debate could have a significant impact on the election if either candidate flubs it or fails to be convincing enough to sway undecided voters.”

“The debate isn’t likely to change the course of the race but, if it does, it will be because something dramatic happens to break through to the undecided voters,” said Stephen Medvic, professor of government and the director for the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. “If something dramatic happens – something raising questions about Fetterman’s health or a gaffe that suggests Oz is out of touch with many Pennsylvanians – it could get a lot of attention both in local, state, and national media.”

One of the major concerns of many has been Fetterman’s health since a May stroke and the debate could go a long way to easing their minds about his ability to serve in the Senate.

“Fetterman needs to demonstrate that he can think quickly on his feet and respond effectively and articulately to questions and Oz attacks,” said Kincaid.

“(He needs to) avoid any really awkward moments like really long pauses or incoherent responses,” added Medvic.  “It’s a fairly low bar.”

This will also be an opportunity for Oz to shed a “carpet-bagger” label that has dogged him since the outset of his candidacy.

“Oz needs to convince undecided voters that Pennsylvania is the love of his life,” stated Kincaid.

Medvic replied that it was another low bar for a candidate to clear. “Try to appear to authentically understand the state and the voters in the state.”

Might the success of the Phillies and the Eagles have any impact on the race by motivating more voters from the Delaware Valley to come out and cast a ballot?

Medvic did not think so, but added “in a really close race, all kinds of things can influence just enough voters to have an impact. He also noted a recent study from The Journal of Politics that suggested that entertaining sporting events can be strong civic distractions and affect turnout by 2-8 percentage points.

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