As swing-state candidates face fresh scrutiny, both parties bank on backlash: The Note

Georgia, Pennsylvania and more may test the limits of loyalty and outrage.

October 27, 2022, 6:02 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

There's no comparing what Herschel Walker stands accused of having done (which he denies) and what John Fetterman stands accused of not being capable of doing.

That's except for the fact that both men are on the ballot in races that could determine control of the Senate. Both -- along with national and state parties that are holding their breath -- are hoping that backlashes to the late challenges facing their candidacies resonate more strongly than any attacks themselves.

Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, had his campaign claim $1 million in donations in the few hours after an uneven debate performance Tuesday night put his recovery from a stroke on national display.

His Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, isn't going where many of his fellow Republicans are going in publicly questioning Fetterman's ability to do the job. The super PAC connected to former President Donald Trump's political operation went up with an ad stating flatly that "Fetterman just isn't right."

Walker, the Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, is reiterating blanket denials in the face of a second woman's accusation -- not verified by ABC News or other major news organizations -- that he paid for her to obtain an abortion in 1993.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was by Walker's side Wednesday to liken the attacks to pre-confirmation allegations that surfaced against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who also denied those. Walker declared himself "done with this foolishness."

"And I also want to let you know I didn't kill JFK either," he told reporters.

The attacks have a dual impact of making some supporters nervous and others angry, with some a little of both. Races in Georgia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere could test the limits of party loyalty -- and the potency of outrage as a campaign tactic.

PHOTO: Herschel walker delivers remarks at a campaign event in Dillard, Ga., Oct. 26, 2022.
Herschel walker delivers remarks at a campaign event in Dillard, Ga., Oct. 26, 2022.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

After Fetterman's Senate debate performance thrust his stroke recovery even further into the headlines, Democratic allies have come to his defense.

The lieutenant governor has said he is struggling with lingering auditory processing issues after suffering that stroke in May. Outside medical experts told ABC News that speech difficulties don't indicate cognitive impairment.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who often shies away from speaking about anything midterms-related, told ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega on Wednesday that President Joe Biden respects the "courage and the honesty" he has seen from Fetterman.

"In personal conversations that the president has had with the lieutenant governor, the president has found him to be an impressive, incredibly bright and talented person who's just as capable, as always, to carry out his office, the duties of his office," Jean-Pierre said. "As we know, he is the lieutenant governor currently and has great ability and heartfelt concern for the people of the Commonwealth."

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly spoke on the campaign trail about the difficulty of recovery in response to a question from ABC's Libby Cathey. His wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, was shot and sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2011.

"Rehab works and you get better over time. I mean, time and, you know, doing therapy -- whether it's physical therapy, speech therapy, all that stuff really helps, and time helps," said Kelly. "I've talked to John Fetterman a couple times about this because we share that. Me through my wife, Congresswoman Giffords."

The race result will soon show if Pennsylvania voters extend Fetterman similar grace. According to FiveThirtyEight's polling average, Fetterman still leads Oz just days before Election Day, with early voting already underway.

PHOTO: Democratic Pennsylvania candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman participates in a debate in Harrisburg, Pa., Oct. 25, 2022.
Democratic Pennsylvania candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman participates in a debate in Harrisburg, Pa., Oct. 25, 2022.
Greg Nash/Handout/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

The stakes of the last push to the midterm elections will be amplified as each party's most popular figures hit the campaign trail. Both former Presidents Barack Obama and Trump are slated to crisscross battleground states over the next week in an effort to boost candidates duking it out in critical races.

On Friday, Obama heads to Georgia to rally with incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock in College Park. The city, just south of Atlanta, straddles both Fulton and Clayton counties. Those areas were critical to Warnock's victories in November 2020 as well as his January 2021 runoff election. Voter turnout for Warnock in Clayton grew from about 85% in the general to 88% in the runoff, making it a critical focus two years later.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, Obama will head to the Midwest with events boosting candidates in Michigan and Wisconsin before kicking off the last week of the general election cycle with a rally in Nevada. Incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has been put on defense over the last several weeks and could be the party's most vulnerable Democrat. In addition to Obama, Monday's event will include appearances by performer John Legend and workers' rights activist Dolores Huerta.

Meanwhile, on the heels of Pennsylvania's sole Senate debate, Trump announced he would be returning to the vote-critical western part of the state with a rally featuring both Oz and Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano in Latrobe. The city is in Westmoreland County where Trump won by double digits in 2020.

On the eve of Election Day, Trump will then rally with Senate hopeful J.D. Vance in Ohio. That event follows a Nov. 6 rally in his new home state of Florida with Sen. Marco Rubio, his former 2016 presidential primary opponent, in Miami. Notably absent from the roster is incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is speculated to be a possible 2024 presidential contender.

PHOTO: Former U.S. President Barack Obama goes to cast his vote at an early voting venue in Chicago, Oct. 17, 2022.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama goes to cast his vote at an early voting venue in Chicago, Oct. 17, 2022.
Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

Power Trip

"Power Trip: Those Seeking Power and Those Who Chase Them" follows 7 young reporters as they chase down candidates in the lead up to the midterms with George Stephanopoulos guiding them along the way.


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. "Start Here" begins Thursday morning with ABC's Rick Klein on Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker denying a new woman's claim that he pressured her to have an abortion in 1993. Then KPMG chief economist Diane Swonk breaks down the latest on the economy and what to expect from the third-quarter GDP report. And, ABC's Ginger Zee reports on Switzerland's glaciers disappearing faster than ever.


  • President Biden heads to Syracuse, New York, on Thursday afternoon to talk about the technology company Micron investing in in the state in the wake of the passage of a domestic semiconductor manufacturing bill. He will speak at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Friday for the latest.

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