The common perception about political debates is that they exist to give candidates an opportunity to persuade people to vote for them.
In reality, however, debates are more about not giving voters a reason to vote against you, the thinking being that, by the time the debates roll around, most people have already made up their minds anyway. If a voter has already decided to vote for you, you don’t want to change his or her mind. If they haven’t decided, you don’t want to push them toward the other guy.
In other words, debates are nearly impossible to win; they’re much easier to lose. As John Fetterman found out last night.
After a debate performance that can only be described as dismal, the sitting lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania got bad news on both fronts: He had managed to push at least one independent to his opponent, Republican Melmet Oz, and at least one Democrat away from himself.
Chris Cuomo — yes, that Chris Cuomo, he’s returned to the news industry at NewsNation recently — said he’d be “shocked if the polls don’t change after tonight.”
His new outlet hosted the debate, which gave him the opportunity to ask questions of a few Pennsylvania voters at a “watch party” hosted by the channel.
“So, I was definitely — I’m an independent, by the way — I was definitely leaning towards Fetterman,” said Eric, the first viewer Cuomo interviewed. “And I think I have totally changed to the Oz side.”
“I felt that Fetterman just looked like he didn’t have command of the facts,” he added when Cuomo asked him to explain the change. “I do think his condition, unfortunately, it’s going to affect his ability to do the job.”
Oz, he said, came across well in the debate, but “I didn’t see any plans coming out of Fetterman,” he concluded.
Cuomo then turned his attention to a woman named Jessica, a self-described registered Democrat who said that abortion was the issue she was most “focused” on. She was pleasantly surprised, she said, to hear Oz say that he would not support a federal ban on abortion.
She was also surprised at Fetterman, but in a less positive way.
“It was kind of shocking to see Fetterman,” she said. “I will say that I think that he improved through the course of the debate. I think that he kind of got his footing, and it’s good to hear from experts who think that he might continue to improve over the course of the next few months.”
At this point, Jessica sounded so much like a Fetterman apologist — honestly, her earlier comments on abortion had already had me wondering about her — that it had me speculating about who Jessica’s employer might be.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party? Pennsylvania for Fetterman, even?
“I’m not 100 percent sure where I’m going to go on Election Day,” she said, “but I do know for sure that I’m voting for [Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh] Shapiro.”
OK — Jessica probably doesn’t work for the Fetterman campaign, but I’m still not ruling out the possibility that she’s the webmaster for padems.com or something.
You can watch the interviews here:
When all was said and done, John Fetterman had managed to push an independent to his opponent, and to shift a supporter back to neutral — and Oz actually said something to this apparently one-issue voter that might bring her all the way over the the red side of that particular contest.
Of course, these are only two Pennsylvania voters, and we have no way of knowing how well they represent the state’s voters in general. In fact, early voting by mail-in ballot was already well underway in Pennsylvania before last night’s debate.
I bet there are a few Pennsylvanians wishing they could get their ballots back this morning. And I bet most of them aren’t registered Republicans.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.