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Stirewaltisms: A Tale of Two October Senate Meltdowns
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Stirewaltisms: A Tale of Two October Senate Meltdowns

What’s happening in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images.)

The Senate races in Georgia and Pennsylvania offer voters similar conundrums. 

In the Peach State, the Senate nominee for the dominant party in the state is a man who has left a trail of wreckage in his wake. Whatever the facts of the most recent allegations against Herschel Walker, his reckless way of living has caused serious harm to those around him, particularly the children he left behind. While the abortion claims against Walker are new, his troubled, violent past had been known well before Walker’s celebrity and former President Donald Trump’s backing won the former University of Georgia football hero the nomination. It’s been a sad story from start to finish.

But would Republican-leaning Georgia really rather have six whole years of progressive Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock instead of the inevitable spectacle of sending a troubled, troubling man like Walker to the Senate? This is no two-year bounce like the one Alabama Republicans faced in 2017 when forced to choose between the lothario of the mall food court, Roy Moore, and moderate Democrat Doug Jones. Plus, Georgia cost Republicans the Senate in 2021 when Trump upended the two Senate contests there with his incessant whining about his own defeat and goofball claims about election fraud. Walker has been a huge embarrassment so far, but the hope, I assume, among the Republicans sticking with him is that Walker will follow orders when he gets to Washington and stay out of sight as much as possible. That’s different from Moore, too, who promised to come and raise hell in the Senate.

Walker has agreed to only one debate, set for Friday night. This will be his best, and possibly, last chance to show Georgia voters that despite the wreckage of his past, he can at least manage to keep it together well enough to get by as a U.S. senator. It’s admittedly a low bar, but not one Walker is guaranteed to surmount

In Pennsylvania, like Georgia, the Senate and gubernatorial races look very different. In the Keystone State, Democrat Josh Shapiro seems to be walking away with the governorship against fringe-o Republican nominee Doug Mastraino. The Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz, on the other hand, has seemed to be closing a bit

This makes sense for a couple of reasons. Fetterman may be a national media darling, he’s not the typical kind of buttoned-down Democrat Pennsylvanians have traditionally favored. But Fetterman blew past the very buttoned-down Rep. Conor Lamb to claim the nomination and got lucky when Republicans picked a risky candidate of their own, television healer Oz. Under any circumstances, one would expect Fetterman to struggle in the stretch as Pennsylvanians considered whether they wanted an extreme-seeming senator. 

But the actual circumstances are much worse for the frontrunner. He has struggled mightily to recover from the stroke that afflicted him in the days before the primary. And as has recently been made clear, those struggles continue. While his vulnerabilities are not characterological, like those of Walker, they are related to the same idea: Are we comfortable with having this person representing the state for six long years. Oz is a seriously odd duck, for sure, but he has mostly run a normal campaign. Could we see an unusually high number of split tickets? Fetterman is a much more sympathetic figure, but the dynamics could be the same. 

Like Walker, Fetterman faces a huge test in his debate. Fortunately for him, Dr. Oz has a terrible bedside manner on a subject that should instead elicit sympathy.  


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT                                                                              

Biden job performance

Average approval: 42.6 percent
Average disapproval: 53.2 percent
Net score: -10.6  points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 0.8 points
Change from one month ago: ↑ 1.5 points 

[Average includes: Reuters/Ipsos: 40% approve-56% disapprove; Grinnell College/Selzer: 40% approve-52% disapprove; NBC News: 45% approve-52% disapprove; AP-NORC: 43% approve-56% disapprove; ABC/Washington Post: 39% approve-53% disapprove; NPR/Marist College: 45% approve-52% disapprove; Marquette Law School: 45% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson College: 45% approve-49% disapprove]

Generic congressional ballot 

Democrats: 46.3 percent
Republicans: 45.5 percent
Net advantage: Democratic Party +0.8 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic Party ↑ 0.2 points
Change from one month ago: Republican Party ↑ 1.6 points

[Average includes: Monmouth: 45% Democrat, 47% Republican; NYT/Siena: 46% Democrat, 44% Republican; ABC/Washington Post: 46% Democrat, 51% Republican; Emerson: 45% Democrat, 45% Republican; NBC News: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; CNN/SSRS: 50% Democrat, 47% Republican; Grinnell College/Selzer: 46% Democrat, 42% Republican; Wall Street Journal: 47% Democrat, 44% Republican; NPR/Marist College: 48% Democrat, 45% Republican]


TIME OUT: SAFETY TO SURGEON

New York Times: “It had been one month without football for Myron Rolle, an N.F.L. safety, and he was foundering. … Without the structure and rigor of a football career, he struggled to make sense of what would come next. … He had been a hot-tempered kid, but at 11, his older brother, Marshawn, gave him a copy of “Gifted Hands,” Dr. Ben Carson’s popular 1990 memoir. … After reading it, Mr. Rolle started chasing two dreams — being a pro football player and becoming a neurosurgeon like Dr. Carson. … But Mr. Rolle’s football dream did not go as planned. Though he was competitive in practices, he never played in an N.F.L. regular-season game and the Titans parted ways with him once his contract was up. … Today, he is Dr. Rolle, and at 35, he is in the sixth year of his neuroscience residency at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.”


STRUGGLING IN POLLS, BARNES HOPES FOR OBAMA BOOST

Politico: “Trailing and eager for a campaign jolt, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee in Wisconsin, is calling the cavalry for reinforcement. Barnes’ campaign has privately reached out to Barack Obama’s team to get the former president on the trail in the closing days of his challenge to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. … They are in various stages of planning with Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). … The desire among Barnes and Wisconsin Democrats to bring in national figures during the campaign’s stretch run reflects an anxiety from within the state that the chance to flip the Senate seat may very well be slipping away. Barnes has trailed Johnson in most public polls in recent weeks after facing unrelenting attacks from the right labeling him as soft on crime and an impediment to improving the economy.”

National Dems leave Ohio’s Ryan high and dry: NBC News: “Democrats are increasingly fearful that they are squandering a chance to flip a Senate seat in Ohio — a state that once seemed off the map but, according to polls, remains close four weeks from Election Day. … Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee, has been a more prolific fundraiser. But because national Democratic groups have provided comparatively little help on the airwaves, Ryan has had to spend cash as fast as it comes in just to keep up with the GOP onslaught. … ‘Tim Ryan is running the best Senate race in the country and having to do it all by his lonesome,’ said Irene Lin, an Ohio-based Democratic strategist. … After losing two presidential campaigns and a race for governor in the state since 2016, national Democrats are wary about spending in Ohio, once a quintessential battleground.”

Laxalt builds momentum in Nevada: USA Today: “Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the most endangered Democratic senator on the ballot on Nov. 8, holds the smallest of leads over Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, 46%-44%. … Laxalt has shown momentum since the USA TODAY Network survey in August, narrowing a 7 percentage-point gap after hammering his rival on the economy and gaining ground among Hispanic voters. … Laxalt has tightened the Senate race since August by driving up Cortez Masto’s unfavorable ratings – to 45% now from 39% then – and by expanding his appeal among Hispanic voters. … The economic message Laxalt has emphasized has resonated with many Latinos, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center: ‘Forty-eight percent of Hispanics named the economy/inflation as the No. 1 issue, higher than whites (43%) and Blacks (23%).’”

Budd challenges North Carolina’s purple track record: Politico: “North Carolina’s Republican senators are known for their independent streaks: Richard Burr voted to convict Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection, and Thom Tillis clinched a flurry of bipartisan deals. The man who wants to join their ranks cuts a different profile. Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is among the most conservative members of the House, with a voting record to show for it. … Yet he insists he will carry on in the unconventional tradition of the state’s GOP senators if he defeats Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley next month. … Public polls show a tied race, though recent history suggests Budd is a narrow favorite. Beasley is hammering Budd on his vote against prescription drug price reform and protecting abortion rights while trying to emphasize her own independence. Budd is staying focused on the GOP’s four pillars this election: Inflation, crime, the southern border and Biden’s unpopularity.”

Vance nods to need for moderate voters in close race: Washington Examiner

“Republican J.D. Vance is conceding that polls showing him in a dogfight with Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) for an open Ohio Senate seat are accurate, telling grassroots supporters he has to ‘close the deal’ with moderate, center-right voters. Vance, 38, has struggled to outpace Ryan since winning the Republican Senate nomination in May. … Rather than downplay those challenges, Vance told a gathering of Republican voters Thursday morning that his campaign has more work to do with conservative-minded voters ahead of the fast-approaching midterm elections. ‘I think that we’re ahead — not comfortably, but we’re ahead,’ Vance told about 40 grassroots Republicans who gathered at the Lake County GOP headquarters in Painesville, Ohio, roughly 30 miles northeast of Cleveland… ‘What we see is 10% of the electorate — they’re moderate to kind of center-right voters, they’re pretty conservative, especially on crime issues, especially on immigration issues,’ Vance said. ‘We’ve just got to close the deal with them.’”


HOUSE REPUBLICANS EYE CRACKS IN NEW ENGLAND’S BLUE WALL

Washington Post: “[Alan Fung] is one of a handful of Republicans in New England — including candidates in Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut — who have a chance of winning in a region where congressional Republicans had been considered an endangered species. … Republicans in New England point to additional factors in their favor, including a cadre of strong candidates and a ‘perfect storm’ of issues that include the high cost of energy and food as well as the rise of fentanyl in New England communities. … Republicans also argue that abortion… does not resonate with voters in New England as much as in other parts of the country because it’s unlikely states in the Northeast will enact laws restricting access to abortion. … Now, Republicans are betting that New England voters unhappy with President Biden are willing to give the GOP a strong look. They’re aggressively spending in the region, forcing Democrats to defend territory Biden won in 2020.”

After redistricting defeat, Dems play defense in New York: New York Times: “New York has emerged from a haywire redistricting cycle as perhaps the most consequential congressional battleground in the country, and Democrats are mired in an increasingly costly fight just to hold their ground. All told, nine of New York’s 26 seats — from the tip of Long Island to the banks of the Hudson River here in Poughkeepsie — are in play, more than any state but California. … It also underscores just how daunting a task Democrats face as they seek to hold on to the slimmest of majorities nationally. … Democrats, meanwhile, are putting millions of dollars in television advertising behind a bet that abortion rights — and fears about Republicans attacks on election integrity — will be a powerful enough motivator to outweigh economic concerns and national discontent with the party brand.”

Frontline Dems push back on crime attacks: NBC News: “Some Democrats in tough re-election campaigns have tried to inoculate themselves on crime ahead of the midterm elections, hoping to counter brutal Republican ads on the issue. … Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger, both of Virginia, and Jared Golden of Maine — all of whom represent key swing seats — are among roughly a dozen House Democrats featuring ties to law enforcement in their ads. ‘Defunding the police is flat-out wrong,’ Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio says in a spot that features a clip of her talking to police officers. … The rush to flash pro-cop credentials shows that Democrats anticipated a fresh wave of Republican attacks on crime and policing that are landing in House, Senate and state-level races. But candidates and party operatives are split over whether to fire back at the GOP or stay silent on crime and stick to more favorable issues for Democrats.”

In rural Georgia, longtime member faces fierce reelection fight: Associated Press: “In an uphill fight against a 30-year incumbent, Republican congressional candidate Chris West was scratching for votes in Georgia’s second-smallest county on a recent October evening. West was telling voters in Georgetown, just across the Chattahoochee River from Alabama, that they should dump longtime Democrat Sanford Bishop if they’re unhappy with inflation and gas prices. … West and Bishop are rarities in the Deep South: candidates for a congressional race that is even marginally competitive. … Bishop, who is Black, has long styled himself as a moderate, courting the largely white farmers who drive the rural economy and supporting the district’s military bases. … Last year, Georgia Republicans redrew the district to make it somewhat more favorable to their party, sparking fresh interest from GOP candidates.”


L.A. CITY COUNCIL IN MELTDOWN MODE 

Los Angeles Times: “Behind closed doors, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez made openly racist remarks, derided some of her council colleagues and spoke in unusually crass terms about how the city should be carved up politically. … The leak had quickly become a new and incendiary issue in the coming Nov. 8 election, with candidates — some of them endorsed by Martinez — having to stake out positions. …. Martinez and the other Latino leaders present during the taped conversation were seemingly unaware they were being recorded as Martinez said a white councilmember handled his young Black son as though he were an ‘accessory’ and described Councilman Mike Bonin’s son as ‘Parece changuito,’ or ‘like a monkey.’ … The conversation took place in October 2021 and focused heavily on councilmembers’ frustration with maps that had been proposed by the city’s 21-member redistricting commission. Along with revealing cruel and racist comments, the leaked audio offered a rare window into the behind-the-scenes machinations of the redistricting process and the bare-knuckled fighting between various groups trying to secure political power.”

GOP ads absent in crucial governor races: Politico: “TV watchers in most battlegrounds are getting bombarded with political ads. But one key group of candidates is missing from the airwaves in many states: Republican gubernatorial hopefuls. Republicans in some of the most hotly contested gubernatorial battlegrounds are barely spending any money on television ads. … Supportive super PACs or outfits backed by the Republican Governors Association are filling in the gaps, but GOP candidates are still facing a significant deficit in the final weeks before the election. … The spending disparity has been most acute in a handful of the most tightly divided states at the center of American politics: Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. There, a trio of candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump — Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon and Doug Mastriano — have been largely missing on the airwaves.”

Midterm cash cannon turns to state legislatures: New York Times: “The struggle for the Michigan Senate, as well as clashes for control of several other narrowly divided chambers in battleground states, have taken on outsize importance at a time when state legislatures are ever more powerful. … Democrats and Republicans have set their sights on half a dozen states where state legislatures — or at least a single chamber — could flip in November. … An avalanche of money has flowed into these races. The Republican State Leadership Committee, the party’s campaign arm for state legislative races, has regularly set new fund-raising records, raising $71 million this cycle. The group’s Democratic counterpart has also broken fund-raising records, raising $45 million. … The television airwaves, rarely a place where state legislative candidates go to war, have been flooded with advertising on the races. More than $100 million has been spent nationwide since July.”

BRIEFLY

‘Death of telephone polling’ draws nearer as response rates crater—New York Times

Departing from national strategy, South Texas Dems dodge abortion—Politico 

GOP nominates most diverse candidate slate yet—New York Times

A nightmare Senate map awaits Democrats in 2024—Politico 

Poll: trust in federal government continues to drop—Gallup 

WITHIN EARSHOT: YO SOY ITALIANO

“I’m Italian, thank you. That’s Latin.”—Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso responding to a debate question about how well a white man can connect with Latino communities. 


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the statesmanlike Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack! 


CUTLINE CONTEST: UNCLE JOE’S GOT THE GOODS

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

Please forgive our unexpected absence last week, but, as they would have said in Arthurian England, I got better. That meant more time for you to savor the amazing photo you had to work with from September 29 of President Biden in a triumphal clinch. You people did not disappoint. What most of you didn’t know, though, was that I have a huge affection for The Onion’s Biden character, which portrayed the then-vice president as a Trans-Am waxing, copper-wire stealing, Scorpions-loving dirtbag. But our winner was picking up what I was laying down. 

Winner: 

“I’ve got two tickets to paradise! Guess which hand they’re in!”—Paulette Arnold, Marinette, Wisconsin

Winner, Two Scoops Division: 

“Yessssss! They’re serving butter pecan!”—Bob Bell, Roseville, California

Winner, Seventh and Eighth Grade Boys Division: 

“Folks, if you thought that gas release from Nord Stream 2 was funny, watch this!”—Michael Smith, Georgetown, Kentucky

Winner, News Bankshot Division: 

“President Biden tries to keep time as Lizzo plays James Madison’s flute.”—John Ellis, Honolulu, Hawaii

Winner, Oh-oh-oh-ozempic Division: 

“Ask your doctor if the presidency is right for you.”—Will Bates, St. Louis, Missouri

Winner, Inside Joke Division: 

“We’re going to eliminate the social stigma around head lice, man!”—Michael Joosten, Ashland, Massachusetts

Winner, Teacher’s Pet Division:

“President Biden reacts to the latest hiring announcements from The Dispatch.”—Ian Spotts, Arlington, Virginia

It is also time to crown our September Cutline Contest champion, Rob Fisher of Azusa, California, who gave us “Black Swan-Lake” for a photo of former President Donald Trump with Arizona Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake. What set Mr. Fisher apart was how much joke he packed into just three words. Please email us with your address so that you can claim your prize: A set of passes to the 1932 Republican National Convention in Chicago, held under the wings of the black swan of 1929.

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun! 


SCALES OF JUSTICE 

Washington Post: “A pair of fishermen at the center of a cheating scandal that rocked the world of sport fishing last month were indicted Wednesday on multiple felonies, accused of stuffing their catch with metal weights at an Ohio tournament in an attempt to win tens of thousands of dollars. … The indictments stem from the Lake Erie Walleye Trail fishing tournament’s final championship competition on Sept. 30, when about 65 two-person teams spent eight hours trying to pluck five of the heaviest walleyes out of the Great Lake. … ‘We got weights in fish!’ [tournament director] Jason Fischer shouted, pulling out one of 10 weights totaling seven pounds that would be found in the catch. He also found several walleye filets — flesh from other fish used to beef up the entry. … ‘I personally have never seen anything quite like this in competitive fishing,’ Fischer said, adding: ‘The individuals involved here appear to have put greed and ego in front of anything else, forever tainting our sport.’”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.