Sep 14, 2022

The Pennsylvania Senate race.

The Pennsylvania Senate race.

This race could determine control of the Senate.

Today's read: 13 minutes.

The race that could decide the Senate. Plus, a question about Gov. Abbott's immigration policy.

Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman. Image: Governor Tom Wolf's office

Editor's note.

It's a quiet time in the nation's capital. Congress just got back from a summer recess, which means things are about to heat up: We're expecting movement on a Republican anti-abortion bill, Democrats' Defense of Marriage Act, and a bipartisan Electoral Count Act bill, among many others. But in the meantime, we're also anticipating some quiet days heading into the home stretch of the midterms.

So, we’d like to hear from you: What big political debate would you like to see us cover? Fill out this form and let us know.

One more time...

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Quick hits.

  1. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) unveiled federal legislation that would ban abortions nationally after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. (The bill)
  2. All three major stock indexes fell by over 4% yesterday after the latest inflation numbers were released, the worst day for the market since June of 2020. (The drop)
  3. China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Kazakhstan today on his first international trip since the pandemic began. He plans to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week. (The visit)
  4. Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island held primary elections yesterday. In the most closely watched race, Don Bolduc, a Trump-endorsed election denier, won the Republican Senate primary in New Hampshire. (The races)
  5. Twitter's board has accepted Elon Musk's $44 billion bid to buy the company. Musk is in the midst of a legal battle to withdraw the bid on claims the company misled him about the number of fake users. (The vote)

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Today's topic.

The Pennsylvania Senate race. Given its importance in determining which party controls the Senate in November, this could be the most watched election nationally, and the drama is already heating up.

The basics: The race is between Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D) and Dr. Mehmet Oz (R), who are running to replace retiring Republican Pat Toomey.

Fetterman, 53, has served as Lt. Governor since 2019. Before that, he was the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, from 2006 to 2019. Fetterman has crafted a working-class image, frequently appearing in public in a hoodie and jeans. He is considered a progressive Democrat, often drawing comparisons to Sen. Bernie Sanders (who endorsed him for Lt. Gov. in 2018). He says health care is a basic human right, wants to legalize cannabis nationally, supports unions, and believes we should institute universal pre-k and childcare.

Oz, 62, is a television personality and political newcomer who started his career in medicine as a heart surgeon. He was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, and has focused much of his campaign on achieving energy independence, advocating for school choice, securing the border, competing with China, and restricting abortion (he recently clarified that he supports exceptions for rape, incest or danger to the mother's life). Oz is a Turkish-American son of immigrants and is also the first Muslim candidate to be nominated by either major party for the U.S. Senate.

The intrigue: On Fetterman's side, it's a lot about his health. Before winning the Democratic primary, Fetterman suffered a stroke. He spent five days in the hospital and has since slowly eased back into campaigning. Lingering speech issues have been apparent on the campaign trail, producing dozens of news reports that call into question his cognitive capacity since returning to public view. Fetterman has refused consistent pressure from Oz’s campaign to participate in a debate, citing his continuing recovery, though he just agreed to at least one in mid to late October.

Fetterman also came under increased scrutiny when The Philadelphia Inquirer published a lengthy piece about how he lived most of his adult life with support from his parents, who gave him money into his 40s. His parents gave him $54,000 in 2016 alone while he served as mayor of small-town Braddock, a job which only paid $150 a month. Fetterman's campaign responded to the story by noting that he talks regularly about his "cushy" upbringing and has long acknowledged his parents’ support, saying he opted to dedicate himself to public service rather than work a high-paying job or live off his family forever.

On Oz's side, the initial drama was focused on Trump's endorsement. Oz faced a huge amount of pushback from the so-called MAGA base, many of whom do not believe him to be a real conservative in Trump’s mold. Oz ran in a tight primary against David McCormick, a CEO who had a lot of grassroots support from Trump's base, but who conceded after a recount. Pollsters have speculated that a large enough segment of Trump’s base may be uninterested enough in Oz to damage his chances in the general election. Fetterman’s campaign has also elevated Oz’s history of promoting a so-called “miracle pill” for weight loss, which he ended up testifying in front of Congress to defend, while conceding he may have oversold their effects.

Like Fetterman, Oz's alleged populist bonafides have also been called into question over his real estate holdings. In addition to a mansion in northern New Jersey, the celebrity surgeon has a home in Pennsylvania, both of which he publicly acknowledges. But The Daily Beast reported that Oz has at least ten other residential properties. Fetterman's campaign has questioned whether Oz really resides in Pennsylvania, noting that most of his online presence has featured him at his New Jersey home for many years. Oz attended medical school and married in Pennsylvania, and moved in with his wife's family in suburban Philadelphia in 2020 while his Pennsylvania home was under construction.

The state of play: Pennsylvania is a major battleground state, and this race could determine control of the Senate heading into the second half of Biden's term. Many pollsters believe this election will be a test of support for Biden and Trump, who are both campaigning for their respective candidates. In a single week in September, Biden visited the state three times and Trump visited once. Pennsylvania is also going to be a testing ground for some of the biggest issues facing the country.

The Philadelphia metro area, for instance, has been beset by a spike in violent crime. It has seen inflation rise 8.1% over the last year, which is just about the national average. 8 in 10 Pennsylvania voters say higher prices have been difficult or a hardship for them, according to CBS. Voters in Pennsylvania have also shown higher levels of support for abortion rights compared to other swing states, making it a key barometer of how that issue will play in 2022.

Currently, Fetterman is leading Oz by about 6.5 points in RealClearPolitics' average of all polling, a relatively comfortable lead with eight weeks to go, but some recent polls have shown the race tightening. Cook Political Report rates the race at "Lean Democrat." Meanwhile, Oz has been ramping up his attack ads on Fetterman, with a specific focus on a 2013 incident where he pulled a gun on a Black jogger.

Today, we'll take a look at some opinions from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left criticizes Oz and says Fetterman will be far better for working class and Black residents.
  • Many say Oz's campaign has been an embarrassing spectacle.
  • Some say Fetterman needs to be more transparent about his health and give voters a debate.

In The New Republic, Alex Shephard said the "humiliation" of Dr. Oz is nearly complete.

"The biggest problem with Oz’s candidacy is that he is an utter phony with a comical inability to conceal this fact from the public view. And this is surprising since hiding his obvious insincerity has hitherto been an important part of his skill set. Yes, Oz is an actual medical doctor—a cardiothoracic surgeon, at that. But his TV persona has always had a loose relationship with actual medicine," Shephard said. "He has pushed quack pills and salves for years and been called out for it repeatedly; pressed by NBC News about criticisms he’s received he pointed out that his namesake television show was 'not a medical show' and observed that in its logo the word 'Dr.' was much smaller than 'Oz.'

"It’s possible that things would be going better if Oz had a different opponent—another greasy TV host, perhaps, or better yet a conventional corporate Democrat," Shephard added. "Instead, he’s facing Fetterman, a burly York County native with a penchant for wearing shorts in the winter. Authenticity is a fraught quality to assess in political campaigns, where almost everything is artifice, but Fetterman makes it easier to divine than most candidates for the U.S. Senate. He certainly has the knack for out-muscling Oz in the authenticity fight, and he clearly loves rubbing his hapless opponent’s nose in it. The contrast could not be more striking."

In NBC News, David Love wrote about why Black voters should still support Fetterman despite the 2013 incident.

"Philadelphia is two cities in one," Love said. "Although it has suffered from a long legacy of racial segregation and present-day social stratification based on race, education and geography, Philadelphia is an economically booming and gentrifying city. It has also been the poorest of the large U.S. cities in recent years, with roughly a quarter of its residents — disproportionately Black and other people of color — living in poverty. Despite the world-class hospitals in Philadelphia, residents of color suffer from health disparities due to lack of access. And even with its many fine universities, only 28% of its residents 25 and older have earned a bachelor’s degree; Philadelphia is among the worst cities in college attainment.

"Nothing the Republican Party has shown indicates that it is willing to address these crises in a meaningful way," he wrote. "To be very clear, it’s fair to criticize Fetterman for what he did, but we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the GOP really cares about what the former mayor did to an unarmed Black man or that the party is dedicated to getting Black voters on its side... Not to mention we’ve seen how Trump foot soldiers such as the state’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — who was recently seen posing in a 2013-2014 faculty photograph wearing a Confederate uniform — attempted to overturn the 2020 election... Indeed, Oz and his Republican supporters care nothing about Black voters short of efforts to keep them away from the ballot box come November."

The Washington Post editorial board said Fetterman and Oz owe voters more than one debate.

"Debates about debates between candidates running for office are tedious, as barbs are traded over the number of matchups, the timing, the ground rules," the board said. "But the one being played out in Pennsylvania between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) and his Republican opponent in the race for U.S. Senate, Mehmet Oz, is worthy of attention. The race might well determine which party controls the Senate, and voters would benefit from seeing the two candidates exchange ideas and test each other. Mr. Fetterman has seemingly been reluctant to commit to firm debate dates, and that troubling stance has raised questions about whether he, still recovering from a serious stroke, is fit to serve in the Senate.

"And he should debate Mr. Oz before voters start casting their ballots. Mr. Oz, for his part, has not exactly conducted himself with glory," they added. "The campaign’s offer to fund 'any additional medical personnel [Mr. Fetterman] might need to have on standby' during a debate and its mocking comment about Mr. Fetterman not eating enough vegetables were sophomoric and unseemly, made worse by the fact that Mr. Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon. Both candidates have something to prove to voters, and there is no better forum than a debate."

What the right is saying.

  • The right says Fetterman's health is a real issue, but hardly his only problem.
  • Some call out his record in Braddock, PA, as mayor.
  • Others say Dr. Oz is right to draw attention to Fetterman's fitness.

In The Washington Examiner, Elizabeth Stauffer said John Fetterman's issues go "well beyond his cognitive impairment."

"One of Fetterman’s top priorities is delivering so-called criminal justice reform. During a 2020 interview, journalist Jason Flom asked him, 'If you had a magic wand and you could wave it and fix one thing, what would it be?' Without missing a beat, he replied, 'Life without parole in Pennsylvania. We could save billions in revenue long term. We could save thousands of lives and not make anyone less safe. And also expunge as many permanent records of people that have been living their best lives and have been paying well beyond when they should have for a charge that they caught, you know, 10, 15, 20 years ago.'

"Fixing 'life without parole in Pennsylvania' was more important to this man than, say, job creation, access to quality healthcare for all, or making our streets safer," Stauffer said. "Considering Fetterman supports the immediate release of one-third of all prison inmates in the state, this shouldn’t surprise us. But perhaps the most disturbing part of Fetterman’s biography is his utter failure of leadership during his tenure as the mayor of Braddock from 2006 to 2019. Braddock, a borough located in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, had a population of 1,721 at the time of the 2020 census. After losing 26% of its population in the 2000s, Braddock lost an additional 20.3% over the next decade. It would be naive to think Fetterman’s progressive policies, which are to the left of even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), had nothing to do with the town’s decline."

In The Federalist, Tristan Justice said Democrats are refusing to debate Republicans in key battleground states.

"On Sunday, Arizona Secretary of State and fall gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs became the latest Democrat nominee to refuse a debate with her Republican rival," Justice wrote. "Further up north on the west coast, five-term Washington Sen. Patty Murray is refusing to engage with Republican Senate nominee Tiffany Smiley, who challenged the incumbent lawmaker to four debates. On the east coast, Pennsylvania Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is pursuing an open Senate seat vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey, has blamed his health for refusal to debate Republican television doctor Mehmet Oz. In May, Fetterman suffered a stroke where — in his words — he 'almost died.'

"In refusing to debate because of his health, Fetterman, whose auditory stumbles on the campaign trail make the candidate at times seem indistinguishable from President Joe Biden, is trying to have it both ways," Justice said. "On the one hand, Fetterman claimed his health precluded the Democrat nominee from taking the stage with his Republican opponent, Dr. Oz. On the other, voters are still expected to believe Fetterman is healthy enough to represent them in the upper chamber, complete with long hours on the Senate floor, for a full six-year term. After blowback for bowing out of an event on Sept. 6, Fetterman gave an interview with Politico where he pledged to participate in a single televised debate with Dr. Oz scheduled for October."

In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Kyle Sammin said it is fair to question Fetterman's fitness.

"The exact degree to which Fetterman was incapacitated by his stroke in May is still unknown, mostly because the candidate and his campaign have worked hard to hide it," Sammin wrote. "They initially acted like the incident was minor, which worked long enough to win the primary. Doctors questioned the story soon after, and the campaign was forced to admit there was more than they were telling, and that the lieutenant governor was still dealing with issues related to auditory processing and speech — but not until after the Aug. 15 deadline for replacing a candidate had passed. It’s not clear why the campaign waited so long.

"Maybe they thought Fetterman would be back to full health by now. But that was always unlikely. According to stroke expert Ray Reichwein at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, only 25% of people who experience the same stroke as Fetterman fully recover their mental faculties," Sammin wrote. “The Oz team was absolutely correct to raise the question of their opponent’s cognitive fitness, especially when no one else was willing to talk about it. But the campaign did it in the most ham-handed and crude way possible, with tweets and statements (later walked back by the candidate) that seemed to poke fun at Fetterman’s health. It let Fetterman off the hook, allowing him to spin the story as Oz making fun of his disability, rather than putting the focus where it should be: on the disability itself."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • Both campaigns seem to be hiding a lot about their candidates.
  • Fetterman clearly has the upper hand right now, but the question of his health is not (and should not) go away.
  • It's a showdown of Oz's zero political experience vs. Fetterman's record in office.

As a policy, Tangle never endorses candidates. So if you're looking for that here, you can stop reading, because you won't find it. Of course, given that I recently moved back to my home state of Pennsylvania, this election is particularly interesting to me so I was excited to dive in today given how much national attention it’s getting.

For starters: Both campaigns stink to high heaven. Fetterman is clearly not okay, and I give his office credit for conceding he is having auditory and processing issues, whatever that means. Most campaigns probably wouldn't even concede that. But he had a stroke, his campaign tried to pretend it wasn't that big of a deal, then conceded it was a huge deal. He has been dodging any debates despite the rapid approach of early voting, and now that Fetterman is back in public he doesn't look or sound right. Any voter casting a ballot in Pennsylvania should have a clear understanding of what, exactly, is the status of his recovery.

A debate might help. Though, after what we witnessed in Trump vs. Biden, you'll excuse me if my faith in debates has all but been shot. At the very least it'd be nice to see these guys address major issues in front of the cameras. By any normal standards, Fetterman's role as mayor of a tiny town (that did not seem to go particularly well) and his brief stint as Lieutenant Governor would barely make him "qualified" for the U.S. Senate. But when you're running against a TV celebrity heart surgeon who pushes evidence-free medical advice, that kind of resume makes you look like a seasoned politician.

Oz, for his part, appears to be a professional obfuscator. His ten homes are somehow magically two; his New Jersey residence is somehow suburban Philadelphia; his 100% pro-life stance is somehow moderate. And so on. John Fetterman's fairly absurd response that his magic wand resolution would be ending life without parole and not, say, homelessness or poverty or health care prices or broken education or crime or, you know, a million other things, was also a mind-boggling and out-of-touch answer. But good luck trying to figure out what Oz even believes.

His "issues" page on his website, where most candidates flesh out policy positions, has four sentences on how he would "fix" the economy. The entirety of his fix for illegal immigration is "a secure border with a barrier – whether that is a physical wall or one patrolled by technological advances." Innovative. If Fetterman is the face of failing forward, Oz is the embodiment of everything wrong with running TV celebrities who have no experience governing.

Of course, the abortion issue seems also seems crucial to keep an eye on. A wave of women registering to vote in Pennsylvania could have a big impact on 2022, making this race one of the most interesting — as well as one of the most critical for Senate control — in the whole cycle. If Pennsylvania goes blue on the back of a push to fight for abortion rights, it’s possible we see some other toss-up states fall to Democrats, as well.

In Pennsylvania, though, the most intriguing question to me is what kind of support Oz gets from Republicans. He was a divisive pick for a Trump endorsement, and enthusiasm about voting for him among Republicans does not look strong. One reason Fetterman may be ducking debates, aside from his health issues, is that he likes how the polls look now and doesn't see a reason to roll the dice. That's a bad excuse, to be clear, and voters deserve a debate. I'm skeptical of the polls, but even as broken as they are, a 5 to 10 point lead is a pretty safe one, and Fetterman appears to have the upper hand.

Your questions, answered.

Q: In reference to immigration: What do you mean when you say busing immigrants to Washington, New York or Chicago is cruel? The immigrants are not forced to go on a bus to one of these cities.  They are given the choice. If they do not want to go to one of the cities they stay in the border town where they crossed. I suspect many of them want to go to one of the major towns in the north. They look forward to a free bus ride. The rest of them think it might be easier to find a job in one of the northern cities than it is to find a job in Texas.

— Richard, Houston, Texas

Tangle: To be clear, this is what I wrote: "There's no way around the fact that he is toying with human lives as political theater. It's not as if he's shipping migrants off to a work camp — some very well may end up better off being sent to Washington D.C., New York or Chicago instead of staying in Texas, where resources are already strained and the welcome they get may be much less friendly."

Still, the reason I find it cruel is that Abbott is not doing it because he is interested in the well-being of the migrants. The cruelty lies mostly in doing this with no warning to (and hence no preparation in) the cities he sends them to. He isn't saying, "we are sending them to New York and Washington D.C. because they will be better served there." He's using them to apply political pressure, to force politicians there to reckon with the border, and to get attention. As I said, I think that is smart, politically, and it appears to be working. But we don't have to pretend he is well-intentioned or cares about the outcome for those migrants — who are human beings that deserve dignity.

And, for what it’s worth, the question of how "voluntary" it is seems — at best — up for debate. Some migrants say they are being bussed north under false pretenses, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams has said some report coming involuntarily. Given that there is little or no coordination, and many asylum seekers arrive at the border with serious health issues, there's a lot wrong with all of this.

As I said: Some will end up better off, and of course I agree with you that some want to head north. And as I put it before, I'd actually support this kind of policy if it was coordinated and organized. But when human beings are used for political theater, I think it’s cruel.

Under the radar.

The race to recycle batteries is on. The world's biggest automakers are betting that recycled material from old batteries can be used to help supply the elements needed for batteries in new electric cars. More than $300 million is being invested in Ascend Elements, a startup that says it has an efficient way to turn lithium-ion batteries into new components. Ascend Elements and other startups like it are trying to capitalize on funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and jockey for large customers like automakers who need to meet electric vehicle demands. Across the board, carmakers are trying to limit their reliance on China for these rare earth elements. The Wall Street Journal has the story.


  • 52-47. John Fetterman's lead over Mehmet Oz among likely voters in the latest poll on the race from CBS News.
  • 63%. The percentage of Democratic voters who say they are "very enthusiastic" about voting for John Fetterman.
  • 36%. The percentage of Republican voters who say they are "very enthusiastic" about voting for Mehmet Oz.
  • 45-43.8. Democrats’ current lead over Republicans in generic polling of congressional candidates.
  • 19th. The day, in September, when absentee and mail-in ballots become available in Pennsylvania.
  • Five. The number of debates Mehmet Oz suggested he and John Fetterman hold.

Have a nice day.

Some of the largest creatures in nature and one of man's largest machines avoided colliding this week. Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which runs the largest container fleet in the world, is re-routing its vessels to protect a pod of blue whales — the largest animals on earth. The whales were swimming outside Sri Lanka, and conservation groups suggested the route change, noting that it could avoid damaging collisions with the ships and help preserve the blue whales, which are endangered. The massive mammals can grow to 80 feet long and live for 80 years. MSC's largest ship is over 1,200 feet long and can carry 24,756 20-foot containers. Business Insider has the story.

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