https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/3705178-campaign-report-is-the-fetterman-oz-debate-a-game-changer/

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Fetterman’s rough night

Democrats are raising concerns about how Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman’s debate performance could impact the closing days of the campaign.

Fetterman struggled at times to form coherent sentences and answer questions as a result of his stroke recovery. His campaign worked to temper expectations going into the debate, saying that the race will ultimately be decided on Fetterman’s grassroots, on-the-ground campaign efforts.

Second-guessing: Still, Democratic strategists and operatives watching the debate had questions. 

“Fetterman’s team never should have agreed to this debate,” one Pennsylvania Democratic operative told The Hill’s Al Weaver. “He still clearly has some serious health issues.”

One Democratic strategist told The Hill that “you can’t pretend you didn’t see what you saw.” 

“You have to dig in and deal with it. It’s going to mean they’ll turn the heat up with Oz,” the strategist said.

Show of support: But the night may not have necessarily been a loss for Fetterman. In fact, his campaign announced at 12am ET on Wednesday that Fetterman raked in over $1 million in the three hours after the debate.

“It’s clear that the people of Pennsylvania have John’s back in this race,” Fetterman’s campaign manager Brendan McPhillips said in a statement. “They stepped up tonight with a gigantic show of support for John and his debate performance.”

Oz’s sound bite: And Fetterman’s campaign also used the debate to go on the offensive against Oz, citing his line that abortion should be a decision between “a woman, her doctor and local political leaders.”

Fetterman’s campaign said after the debate that it will put money behind an ad on Oz’s comments and release it on Wednesday. 

“Anytime you do debate prep, the number one thing you tell candidates is don’t say anything that becomes an ad,” said another Pennsylvania Democratic operative. “While we all watch debates, not that many other people watch them, but you just don’t want to f— up and create moments and Oz really failed at that.” 

Trump 2024? High-profile Republicans aren’t sure

The GOP may still be former President Donald Trump’s party, but a growing number of prominent Republicans are casting doubt on his prospects for a 2024 White House bid.

In recent days, several high-profile Republicans ranging from former Vice President Pence to former House Speaker Paul Ryan have expressed hope that someone else will emerge as their party’s next presidential nominee, believing that Trump would be a liability for the GOP if he clinches the party’s nomination again.

“I think Trump’s unelectability will be palpable by then,” Ryan said. “We all know he will lose. Or let me put it this way: We all know he’s much more likely to lose the White House than anybody else running for president on our side of the aisle. So why would we want to go with that?”

Trump’s favorability: Of course, figures like Ryan aren’t as influential within the party as they once were, and Trump is still widely regarded as the most popular Republican in the country. Early polling shows him as the current favorite among GOP voters for the party’s 2024 presidential nod.

But that hasn’t stopped some Republicans from distancing themselves from him. Joe O’Dea, the GOP Senate nominee in Colorado, has found traction in an otherwise blue state by differentiating himself from Trump. He vowed earlier this month to oppose the former president if he tries to mount another bid for the White House.

“I’m going to actively campaign against Donald Trump and make sure that we have got four or five really great Republicans right now,” O’Dea said. “Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, they could run and serve for eight years.”

GEORGIA SMASHES EARLY VOTING RECORDS

More than 1 million voters in the state have cast their ballots early so far. That’s a nearly two-fold increase from the same point in the 2018 midterm cycle and close to matching the number of people who voted early at this point in the 2020 presidential election.

The surge in early voting is a testament to the efforts of both parties to get their voters to the polls early. Candidates and parties tend to encourage their most reliable supporters to vote early, because it allows them more time to turnout less frequent or reliable voters before Election Day.

The twist: What’s particularly notable about the early turnout in Georgia is that the vast majority of voters are choosing to cast their ballots in person. Consequently, mail ballot requests have fallen sharply from previous years.

That may be due in part to a new election law approved last year that imposed new restrictions and requirements on mail-in voting. While voting rights advocates worried that the new law could serve to suppress turnout, the early voting numbers suggest that more Georgians are simply choosing to cast their ballots in person.

It’s hard to discern too much about an election from the early vote alone. But the numbers make one thing clear: Georgians appear just as motivated to vote as ever. 

AD WATCH

Congressional Leadership Fund, the top super PAC for House Republicans, is rolling out an $11 million investment in advertising across 16 congressional districts spanning Maine to California, the group announced on Wednesday. It’s a sign that top Republicans are looking to shut down any lingering hopes that Democrats have of keeping control of the House. The outlook for House Democrats was never good; the political environment has been brutal for the party and Republicans are poised to gain from redistricting. But with Election Day less than two weeks away, things are beginning to look grimmer for Democrats.

House Majority PAC (HMP), the main super PAC backing House Democrats, also unveiled a slate of new ads across nine districts on Wednesday. Eight of those districts are “toss-up” seats, while one – New York’s open 3rd District – sits in the Cook Political Report’s “Lean Democratic” column.

In another effort to keep pace with the late-breaking surge in GOP super PAC money, billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pumping another $10 million into HMP. The Hill’s Mychael Snell has more here

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and check out The Hill’s Campaign page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow. 

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