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Inside The Pennsylvania Senate Race; Have The Jan. 6 Hearing Changed Any Minds?; L.A. City Council President Resigns After Leaked Racist Remarks; Walker, Warnock Square Off In Senate Debate. Aired 9- 10a ET

Aired October 15, 2022 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Empathy or objectivity. I'm Michael Smerconish today in Los Angeles.

In a swing state election that could determine the entire balance of power in the Senate, how should the media best approach the sensitive issue of Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman's recovery from a stroke earlier this year? Fetterman suffered the stroke on May 13, the Friday before the Tuesday, May 17, primary election, did not reveal it until two days after it occurred. When he did so, he didn't share an underlying heart condition that required the implanting of a defibrillator and no doubt exacerbated his condition.

We wish him Godspeed and hope he makes a full recovery. He's worked hard to win the nomination and it's a shame that his health has become an issue. The polls suggest that Fetterman Senate race against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz has narrowed as the gap in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race has widened. And while Oz wanted multiple debates, Fetterman agreed to only one, it'll be October 25 after many Pennsylvanians will have already voted, and it will last only 60 minutes.

Fetterman was looking to run out the clock, a strategy not unlike the now president used against Donald Trump in the 2020 election when Biden stayed in Delaware while Trump barnstorm the nation and Biden counted on early balloting. But if Oz continues to close the gap, Fetterman may regret not agreeing to more debates. And Fetterman has not been accessible to the media, which is why there's such attention paid anytime he sits for an interview.

His sit-down last week with NBC's Dasha Burns has drawn enormous scrutiny for both Fetterman and his questioner. NBC characterized it as the first in person sit down that he's had with the journalists since suffering the stroke. For the interview, Fetterman required closed captioning, which means that while Burns is posing questions, he's looking at a computer screen and her words are then typed up and he's able to take a moment, read what's on the screen and then respond. This assistance will also be provided him in the debate against Dr. Oz. Here's an example. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASHA BURNS, NBC NEWS HOST: Can voters stress that you will be able to do this job on day one?



SMERCONISH: What was most interesting, what caused the most controversy is what the reporter, Burns, said to Lester Holt before tossing to the interviewer.


BURNS: In small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn't clear he was understanding our conversation.


SMERCONISH: Many are calling this ableism, saying it's unfair to Fetterman or anybody with a disability for that matter to put him under this level of scrutiny. Among those who threw a flag on this is Kara Swisher of "The New York Times" who tweeted, "Sorry to say but I talked to John Fetterman for over an hour without stop or any aides and this is just nonsense. Maybe this reporter is just bad at small talk. The most irksome thing for me when I had a stroke in 2011 is all Dr. Google folks who kept trying to give me advice, slow down, they'd say, F U, I'd reply, or study my speech for signs of trouble. It's a slow recovery, but many younger people do just fine."

Look, this is a new one. I mean, where is the line of what is appropriate inquiry? I sense a degree of tribalism relative to Fetterman, where people are suiting up in their usual partisan jerseys with an eye toward how they want the Senate race to turn out because remember, the retiring incumbent in this race is Pat Toomey. And he's an R. So, if Fetterman can pick up the seat, it's a game for the Ds. It's not a hold, it's a game.

And I think there's a tendency in this race as in other races to kind of put aside issues that are worthy of legitimate discussion and analysis, and instead, look at who the opponent is, and focus on the bigger prize, Senate control. And for that reason, I put this in a category like Georgia. And by the way, I'm not equating Herschel Walker, potentially lying about paying for an abortion with a poor guy who had a stroke. But think about it, the evangelicals in Georgia, who profess such a staunch belief in prolife seemingly are looking the other way when there's evidence that Walker paid for an abortion in 2009.

And in similar fashion, I sense from some of my radio callers that they don't want to hear about whether Fetterman might have not just an auditory processing problem, but perhaps a cognitive issue because like those evangelicals in Georgia, the progressives in Pennsylvania desperately want control of the Senate. Well, at least I'm in good company. On MSNBC this week, Andrea Mitchell had this exchange with Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and DNC chair about the Pennsylvania and Georgia races.


TERRY MCAULIFFE, (D) FORMER GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA: They have an extreme agenda. Now, if we keep the United States Senate with all these judges that are coming up, we'll stop them from a nationwide abortion ban, that's the stakes of these election.


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST, "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS": But let me ask you this, just to play devil's advocate.


MITCHELL: How is your argument that the bigger issue is keeping control of the Senate? How is that different from Republican saying in Georgia, well, the issue is we got to keep control of the Senate against what they view as a democratic radical agenda?

MCAULIFFE: That's their argument, and they certainly can make it if they want Herschel Walker with all the issues he has run, that's their choice.


SMERCONISH: It's been five months since Fetterman released a letter from a physician saying he'd be capable of serving. He hasn't agreed to release his medical records in both his NBC and a subsequent PennLive interview. He repeatedly pushed back on releasing them.


FETTERMAN: I would say that if there was anything that changed or whatever, I absolutely would have updated that, you know, other than the progress that I've made, it's evident.


SMERCONISH: Arguably had he immediately revealed his stroke and underlying cardiomyopathy and released his medical records and agreed to more debates, he would not have so many questions being asked. If he has no cognitive impairment, if he just has a problem in communicating sentences, then I don't think it's an issue. Others disagree, incumbent Senator Pat Toomey said this last month.


SEN. PATRICK TOOMEY (R-PA): As someone who served in the United States Senate for almost 12 years now, I have a really good understanding of how the place works. If John Fetterman were elected to the Senate and he's not able to communicate effectively, if he's not able to engage with the press, if he's not able to engage with his colleagues, he would not be able to do the job. It's just not possible to be an effective senator if you cannot communicate, it's just the essence of the job. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Toomey's concerns were soon echoed in editorials from both the right leaning Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the left leaning Washington Post. Again, many of my Sirius XM Radio callers really took umbrage at the scrutiny being applied to Fetterman. And if they speak for the majority, then maybe this whole thing is going to end up being to Fetterman electoral benefit.

In late September Fox News poll of registered voters in Pennsylvania asked if they were concerned Fetterman isn't healthy enough to carry out the job of Senator, 61 percent said no, meaning they weren't concerned, 34 percent said yes.

What's more, Pennsylvania has a history of accommodating politician's health issues while they're serving. Governor Bob Casey's first year in office, he suffered a heart attack had a quadruple bypass. During his second term he underwent a heart liver transplant. A month into Senator Arlen Specter's fifth term, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, underwent months of chemotherapy, but stayed in office. He famously chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee while undergoing treatment, and never missed a day of work.

Their cases, of course, differ from Fetterman in that they were already in office when their conditions were diagnosed. They weren't running for those positions for the first time with a recent medical setback.

Here's what I think the question is, should coverage of Fetterman be guided by empathy or objectivity? And the answer is both. You want to cover this in a way that's empathetic to John Fetterman for sure, we really do wish him well to be healthy, whether he's in the Senate or not. But I don't think you surrender your objectivity if you're in the media. I think we need to know the extent of his abilities and partisans need to be willing to scrutinize their own whether the issue is Fetterman and Pennsylvania Walker in Georgia are the events of January 6.

Joining me now is Salena Zito of "The Washington Examiner," "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" and "New York Post." Her most recent book is, "It's Complicated, How Our Nation is Coming Together and Falling Apart."

Salena, John Fetterman's wife now is saying to a podcaster that there ought to be consequences for the interviewer from NBC who raised those questions a couple of days ago. What's your thought?

SALENA ZITO, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": You know, I think Dasha did an incredible interview and subsequently the next day she did a very tough interview with Dr. Oz. You know, this race has been difficult to cover in particular I've had -- I've struggled with what the line is. I've known the Fetterman family since 2005.

However, our job as journalists is to give the voters as much information as possible. And then they do whatever they're going to do in the voting booths. There are people that, you know, have one that were incapacitated or have passed away. But that -- our job is to tell the voter what is going on.

What Dasha said is something that everyone that has gone to a Federal mint event and has gone up to the rope line and has tried to have a conversation with him has experienced. It's not exploiting or -- what his health issues are, it's just taking the facts.

SMERCONISH: So what has been, you just refer to this, what has been your personal experience in covering him since the stroke occurred?


ZITO: Well, I haven't been able to talk to them. And you know, I think the campaign is trying to sort of find a way to meander through this. They've been upfront in saying that he has the auditory processing issue, which means you can't comprehend. It's not a hearing -- just a hearing thing, it's a cognitive thing where you can't sort of understand what someone is saying to you.

It's common that happens to stroke victims, I want to make sure that that's put out there. But I think the biggest challenge has been is this started with a stark lack of transparency and it's created doubt among reporters who have to cover it and also voters who are trying to decide where they go in this election. And I think they would have been best -- they would have best served him had they provided their medical information as soon as it happened.

Look, you mentioned Casey and you mentioned Specter, when those two gentlemen had their individual health problems, there were medical experts standing on either side of them at events, at press conferences, explaining to reporters and to constituents this is what's going on, this is the prognosis, this is what to expect.

SMERCONISH: Salena, Salena, as you heard me make reference to, many people think that this is entirely improper to be having this conversation. There was an essay in the "New York Times" in the print edition that I saw yesterday where someone wrote in defense of Fetterman and said, would you be asking the same questions if he were in a wheelchair?

If I were responding to that person, I would say wait a minute, we're trying to assess whether there are cognitive issues here. And if a person is in a wheelchair and is cognitively fit, then there's no issue whatsoever. Someone else said, would you be asking the same question if the person were deaf. Well, if they can communicate and cognitively are intact, no, there's no issue there either. How do you respond to that type of criticism?

ZITO: The same way you just did, you know?


ZITO: It's a really apples and oranges thing. Look, people are just picking their silos and they're digging in and that's where we are today. There is going to be a slim amount of people that are in the squishy middle that decide or stay. Both of us live in Pennsylvania, as we both know our state decides late, that's -- whether it was Bob Casey and 90, whatever, 92. Whatever the case may be, our elections are always decided late and it's always decided by the voters --

SMERCONISH: Final thought, if I may? You heard me say in the setup, you heard me say that I note that it seems like this gap between Fetterman and Oz is narrowing as the Josh Shapiro Mastriano race widens. And I see cause and effect in that because I say Pennsylvanians like to split their tickets. Quick response from Salina Zito.

ZITO: Absolutely. Think Al Gore and Rick Santorum in 2000. Think Joe Biden in 2020 where he won. And down ballot, Democrats just got eviscerated. They were -- they lost two statewide road Houses where the Republicans had zero money to spend.

They lost -- the Democrats lost State House seats that the Republicans had no money to spend. They weren't even fighting for. The Republicans held two congressional seats in Bucks County and Cumberland County that they were --

SMERCONISH: Yes, good point.

ZITO: -- supposed to lose by two points. You know --

SMERCONISH: Good point.

ZITO: -- we split or pickets in this day.

SMERCONISH: Salena Zito, thank you. Appreciate it. Back to the car and get on the road.

ZITO: Right now.

SMERCONISH: All right. Social media reaction. What do we have? From the world of Twitter, I believe.

How is using a closed caption device any different than a person not being able to see written word clearly and using reading glasses? These are simply tools. MSM parroting fitness to serve based on auditory issues is doing a disservice to all auditory disorder sufferers.

Kim, I think I was crystal clear in saying if it's a communication ability, Senator Pat Toomey disagrees, I don't think it's an issue. I don't think it's an issue at all. If it's a cognitive issue, then I think it's different. And therein lies the distinction that I'm drawing.

As you heard me respond to the person who says, well, what if it's a wheelchair, what if it's somebody who's deaf, whatever the disability might be, that's acceptable as long as cognitively there's no impairment. That's how I see it.

Hey, the survey question, the poll question this week is really, I think, an intriguing one, and I hope you'll go to the website and cast a ballot on a totally different subject. If Putin launches a tactical nuclear strike in Ukraine, how should the U.S., how should NATO respond military? Nuclear, conventional or not at all? Go vote


Still to come, disparaging remarks about blacks and other ethnic groups caught on tape during a meeting between Hispanic L.A. City Council members and a labor union president have exploded into recriminations and resignations. But what does the episode reveal about the political relationship between Hispanics and blacks?

And the January 6 committee returned with another episode this week, their final hearing. But after hours and hours of carefully orchestrated televised inquiry, have they changed anyone's mind?


SMERCONISH: A mistake. Donald Trump should have been the first witness subpoenaed, not the last witness subpoenaed. I don't think he'll ever testify. And I don't say that for an applause line, I say it because he's going to run out the clock.




SMERCONISH: After the January 6 committee's ninth public hearing this week, it's time to ask, did all of the investigation move the needle? So far, signs point to a no.

Here's the headline of this poll taken in this summer by Monmouth University, January 6 hearings have no impact on opinion. Because compared to polling before the hearings, the number of Americans who thought Trump directly responsible actually fell from 42 percent to 38 percent. And only 5 percent of Republicans said Trump is directly responsible. While the number of Americans who thought Joe Biden had fraudulently won the presidency remain constant at 29 percent. This is part of why my next guest wrote in the "New York Times" that the House Select Committee has been, quote, "assiduous in its research, artful in its cinematography, and almost wholly ineffective in shifting views about the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

That's the tape by "New York Times" Contributing Opinion Writer Christopher Caldwell who joins me now. He's also a contributing editor of the Claremont Review of Books and the author of "The Age of Entitlement, America Since the 60s."

Christopher, I agree with you that I wish there were elements of cross examination and confrontation in the January 6 committee's work and all of those nine hearings. But the fact that the needle didn't move, I don't think is the committee's fault. I think it's a testament to the level of polarization and the entrenchment that people have in this country. What about you? CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, CAREMONT REVIEW OF BOOKS: Well, I, you know, I -- certainly I agree with half of it, it's hard to see how -- given the evidence of Trump's misbehavior between the election and January 20, that people who were against Trump would shift their opinions.

I do think that that that a lot of the people who were on Trump's side are -- were a little bit frightened of the way the committee operated. And I think that there was a tendency to blame the January 6 events, not on Trump's misdeeds but on the, let's say the -- but on the opinion that there was something wrong with the election, which is an opinion that can be freely held by anybody. And so I think that a lot of people felt that it was being politicized, that would be the simplest way to put it.

SMERCONISH: You say it was not a coup attempt, and if it was, Donald Trump was not leading it. What blame are you prepared to level at him for the events of that day?

CALDWELL: Yes, well, he was -- as this thing developed, I think that he whipped it up. And he was, of course, as anyone who watched it that afternoon knows he was extremely slow to give any kind of message against violence and against disrupting the proceeding. But I think that there -- you know, when you talk about coup you're talking about a very specific thing, you're talking about a, you know, someone using things like the army and control of broadcasting and things to violently overthrow a country. And I don't think there was anything like that going on. I think, if there were people --

SMERCONISH: Well, he was the arsonist who refused to call the fire department, right? I mean, isn't that a fair analogy? He's the guy who stoked to the whole thing and then sat back and watched it unfold on his flat screen television without lifting a finger to try and encourage those people to stop what they were doing.

CALDWELL: Oratorically, but that's not the same as -- it's not the same as the coup. And the Trump's role in urging people was kind of at the level of affinity. And I think that this is the -- this is where the whole January 6 investigation becomes kind of difficult. He kind of like felt their pain and he shared their opinions, but that doesn't render their opinions criminal.

SMERCONISH: Yes, I dis -- I think that -- I share your criticisms of the way in which they could have approached their job and done so in more of a traditional court confrontational style, but I think you soft pedal, respectfully, on your treatment of Trump. I'll give you the final word. We've got just 15 seconds.

CALDWELL: Well, yes. So I think that there's a -- you know, there's two sides to the thing. It would have been nicer if the committee could have been more bipartisan, but I realized that the blame for that is bipartisan.

SMERCONISH: Christopher Caldwell, thank you for being here.

CALDWELL: Thanks for having me. SMERCONISH: More social media reaction from the world of Twitter. What do we have?


No. The far left and the far right have already made up their minds and those of us in the middle recognize this was a made for T.V. event akin to a kangaroo court. Only actual court-admissible evidence presented and disputed in a fair trial may sway many of us."

Brian, I mean, you've already heard what I said to Christopher Caldwell relative to how they structured this whole thing. Even if they given you and me what we wanted in terms of the opportunity for cross examination, I don't think mines would have changed. I think it's like everything I said in the opening commentary of the program about what's going on in Georgia or what's going on in Pennsylvania and with regard to January 6, people are just too damn dug in or too many people are just too dug in and they're looking at the big prize, who controls the Senate who controls the House. I'm not concerned with, you know, my candidate, that candidate, I'm just voting to put my party in control. And I think that's dangerous for the country.

I want to remind you go to my website, register for the Newsletter while you're there, by the way.

A very provocative poll question today. If Putin launches a tactical nuclear strike in Ukraine, how should the U.S., how should NATO respond militarily? With a nuclear response, a conventional response, or none at all?

Up ahead, the one and only Georgia Senate debate took place last night. Herschel Walker admitted Joe Biden won the election and denied ever paying for an abortion. Incumbent Raphael Warnock defended the administration and a woman's right to choose. How did it play out with Georgians?

And a leaked tape of Los Angeles City Council gathering, gathering of three members of council, it wasn't a council meeting per se made national news because the participants all Hispanic were recorded making slurs against African Americans and other ethnic groups. Resignations ensued. But what does this episode reveal about the dynamics of America's diversifying electorate?


BILL MAHER, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER" HOST: He was out there this week. He's -- he was talking under his new rap name "crazy." He was talking about the Jews. Not so flattering about the Jews this weekend. He got locked out of Twitter, got locked out of Instagram, on the bright side. He is now the head of the L.A. City Council.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: And at its core it's a struggle for power between this group of Hispanics and their perception of people of color, of Blacks. I mean, one of the comments that she makes is about the progressive District Attorney George Gascon and says (EXPLETIVE DELETED) he's with the Blacks.

What I think it represents on a larger scale is -- is a looming, potential conflict that could drive more Hispanics away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party. It's all tribal. It's not Rs and Ds. This time it's by ethnicity. And, I think, it's a sign of a bigger issue.


SMERCONISH: Yours truly with Bill Maher in "Real Time" last night talking about this story. As America diversifies and different groups jockey for power are political relations between Blacks and Latinos actually getting worse and what might this mean for the Democratic Party?

This week a leak of recording of racist remarks at a meeting of three Hispanic Los Angeles City council members created a political firestorm. The shocking tape was of a 2021 meeting between L.A. County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera and three Latino members of the L.A. City Council, President Nury Martinez, Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo. On the tape the group is heard as the "L.A. Times" summarized, speaking contemptuously about those they regard as rivals and impediments. The recordings included racist, bigoted and crude remarks against Blacks, Jewish people, Armenian, Indigenous and gay folks.

Martinez is heard likening the young Black son of another council member changuito, Spanish for monkey. She is also heard saying F the county's progressive D.A. George Gascon because -- quote -- "He's with the Blacks."

The union president Herrera stepped down on Monday. Martinez resigned on Wednesday. Protesters are also demanding the resignations of other two members.

D.A. Gascon responded to Martinez's accusation with an op-ed in the "L.A. Times" writing, "I am with the Blacks because in Los Angeles County, Black people are victims of crime disproportionate to their population size. Given what we have now heard elected City Council members say about Black people behind closed doors, the fact that hate crimes are committed disproportionately against Black people in Los Angeles now has a new context."

In an "L.A. Times" piece headline, "For Black Angelenos, recording stokes anger, fears of losing hard-fought gains," one 76-year-old Black woman called the leaked tape a -- quote -- "betrayal almost akin to January 6th." This comes against the backdrop of the Hispanic vote trending toward the Republican Party.

Joining me now is Fordham University law professor Tanya Hernandez who is herself Afro-Latina and is the author of the recent book "Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality."

Tanya, thanks so much for being here. Explain this to me in a larger context. How does this fit in with your academic research?

TANYA HERNANDEZ, LAW PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY: Well, unfortunately, while this came as a surprise to many people in the public, it's not so surprising to Afro-Latinos. The existence of anti- Black bias has been a recurring trend, a theme, a dynamic within Latino communities because of the way in which it's embedded within Latin American and Caribbean cultures. This is not a product made in the United States. It's not an off-shoot of U.S. racism within Latin America and the Caribbean where 65 to 90 percent of the African slave trade was brought. The recurring legacy of slavery and the negative stereotypes and attitudes about Blackness are still with us.


SMERCONISH: In other words, you see it flat out as racism, and not as, I guess, a jockeying for power between different racial or ethnic groups, not that that makes it any better, but you see it in the case of the former, not the latter.

HERNANDEZ: Well, I actually see it as a combination. I think that within the electoral politics and particularly with redistricting and that's where the horse trading happens, it can be a very crude process, right? But at the same time when you are in these tense environments and tempers are flying or what have you, that is where you hear some of the most unvarnished attitudes. And so, it's not that it's excusable because it happens within electoral politics jockeying for position situation, it's that that situation triggered the ability for it to come to the surface.

SMERCONISH: So in Los Angeles, as I read in and understand this issue, I've come to understand and recognize there are 15 members of city council, 50 percent in round numbers of Los Angeles is Hispanic. Only three of the 15 are Hispanic given the resignation of the council president.

So you say, oh, it's disproportionate. They are only three of 15 and yet they're 50 percent of the population. And then I say to myself, wait a minute, I'm now going down the same rabbit hole of thinking that there needs to be parody. Really, the issue ought to be who are the best people not what they look like.

HERNANDEZ: Well, not only who are the best people, but who are the best people who care about all groups within the community? What you are seeing here is that the designation people of color is one big umbrella category and it doesn't necessarily mean that everyone who is viewed by others as a person of color has all people of color in their best interest.

SMERCONISH: Can we also blame the electorate? Because I think there is a tendency here to say, oh, my God, this disgraceful, disgusting behavior of these council members behind closed doors, but the voters tend to vote for their own, right? I mean, you know, you vote -- initially when your group has never had representation, somebody's running for mayor, and they are -- I'll go with my own case, they are Montenegrans. I have got to be for the Montenegrans. We've never had that job before.

I get that. But you would hope those feelings would dissipate over time and we wouldn't vote only for our own, as a Black candidate, as a Latina candidate, whatever the case may be and voters do that.

HERNANDEZ: Unfortunately, given the existence, longstanding racial bloc voting to support White supremacy, to just be very frank, it is understandable that people would respond to that in wanting to have something -- someone who looks like them represent them, hoping that their interests would be best served. I think here what is particularly problematic is that the voters didn't necessarily have knowledge, right, of the full set of attitudes. And so they were voting, but you know, what exactly were they voting for?

SMERCONISH: Well, they have the knowledge now, that is for sure. Thank you for your analysis. I very much appreciate it.

HERNANDEZ: Any time.

SMERCONISH: Social media reaction. Catherine, what do we have? From the world of Twitter, I believe.

These were Democrats on those tapes so it is not racism. If you have a D next to your name you cannot be racist by definition says Chris with, you know, his tongue in his cheek.

I get it. I think the bigger issue here potentially is that if there is this competition playing itself out between Blacks and Hispanics within the Democratic Party, it might give impetus for more Hispanics to leave the Democratic Party and go to the Republican Party which has been a trend, and I noted it in some of the polling data that I shared.

Hey, are you voting on this week's provocative poll question at I hope so. I can't wait to see what your thinking is on this. God forbid, if Putin launches a tactical nuke in Ukraine, then what should be the U.S./NATO response militarily speaking? Should it be a nuclear response, tit for tat, a conventional response or no response at all? Go vote at and I'm going to give you the results to that at the end of the hour.

Still to come, there were fireworks in last night's lone Georgia Senate debate between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker including over their respective relationships with law enforcement.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA), SENATE CANDIDATE: One thing I have not done, I've never pretended to be a police officer. And -- and -- and I've never -- I've never threatened a shootout.

HERSCHEL WALKER (R-GA), SENATE CANDIDATE: I am with many police officers -- (END VIDEO CLIP)



SMERCONISH: With the midterms 24 days away, last night in Georgia, Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, Republican challenger Herschel Walker squared off in their only debate. As a sign of where we are in 2022 it included a question about who won the 2020 presidential election.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did President Biden defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020?

WALKER: Did President Biden win?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is the question.

WALKER: President Biden won -- President Biden won and Senator Warnock won. That's the reason I decided to run.


SMERCONISH: Joining me now is Patricia Murphy who covered the debate for the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" where she's a political reporter. Patricia, I didn't watch the whole debate. I've only seen snippets. You obviously did.

It's all about expectations, isn't it? Wasn't that bar set so low for Herschel that it made it easier for him to step over it?

PATRICIA MURPHY, POLITICAL REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: It was very low for Herschel Walker. I would say Herschel Walker set that bar very low himself because of his past statements that have been so confusing on the campaign trail. He also refused to debate his primary opponents before, and he's never debated in any capacity in his life at all. So I think the low expectations were probably well earned.


However, I would say that Herschel Walker was able to meet and exceed those expectations. He held his own against Raphael Warnock who is a very seasoned speaker, very seasoned debater. And so, I think that in terms of did he meet the low bar, he probably exceeded the low bar, but I think it's a bar that wasn't set by the media. I think it was set by Herschel Walker himself.

SMERCONISH: And, of course, so much has been said recently about the abortion issue as it pertains to Herschel Walker. Here's the way in which it came up in the debate last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This week you said that the accusations are -- quote -- "all lies." For the voters watching tonight, can you explain the circumstances surrounding these claims? You have 60 seconds.

WALKER: Well, as I said, that's a lie. And, you know, what most thing -- I put -- I put it in a book. One thing about my life is I've been very transparent. Not like the senator, he's hid things. But at the same time I said, that's a lie. And on abortion, you know, I'm a Christian. I believe in life.

WARNOCK: We are witnessing right now what happens when politicians, most of them men, pile into patients' rooms. You get what you're seeing right now. And the women of Georgia -- the women of Georgia deserves a senator who will stand with them.


SMERCONISH: Patricia, when this issue first came up and there was the greeting card and the check and the receipt and a woman saying, you know, I had an abortion at his request. There was a tendency to think this was a game changer, but it really hasn't been, has it?

MURPHY: It is starting to feel like that was not a game changer. It certainly put more doubts in the minds of Republicans because it created such an atmosphere of chaos around Herschel Walker. He had already been accused of and admitted to so many things in his past that were so unsavory including abuse of his former wife that there were Republican voters who were with him anyway, so that information about the abortion whether they believed it or not, did not change their support for Herschel Walker.

It was really the chaos and his own response to that that was keeping some Republicans on the sidelines. Republicans who needed to see more from him that, yes, I am capable of doing this job as a public official in the spotlight. And I think his debate performance last night went a long way in answering that.

So, no. It looks like it's not -- it won't have been a game changer. And, again, a lot of this is about the U.S. Senate, a lot of this is about Joe Biden, and a lot of this is about who's going to control the U.S. Senate in the future. And so, I think it's an easy race to nationalize as well and that's what Walker was trying to do last night, too.

SMERCONISH: Yes. I tried to make that point at the outset of the program today explaining that people are voting for bigger stakes. You know, they're going into their respective state election, but they're thinking about control of the House or control of the Senate or what's to come in 2024. So three weeks plus left on the clock. Where is this race?

MURPHY: Well, listen, it's not three weeks. It's two days. Early voting starts in Georgia on Monday and Georgians do use early voting quite a bit. So I would say this race is about neck and neck. We don't know where it's going to come out. Somebody who was not on the stage last night was the libertarian in this race, Chase Oliver. He has been getting about four percent, sometimes as much as five percent in these polls. That is keeping both Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock under 50 percent. If this goes to a runoff that one of them needs to get 50 percent on election night --

SMERCONISH: No, no, no! Not again.

MURPHY: So if this goes to a runoff we could be right back where we were. I could be talking to you in December. So it looks like this could easily go into overtime and then we're going to see these two men really fight it out one-on-one. So the stakes could not be higher, and I don't know that that debate last night did anything to keep us from going into runoff territory.

SMERCONISH: Well, if we are -- if we are having that conversation in several weeks, the entire control of the Senate could be at stake in the outcome of a runoff. Holy smokes.

MURPHY: Yes. It could be and we -- Georgia has been here very recently in those 2021 runoffs and that's where Raphael Warnock was elected the first time.


MURPHY: And so, it really -- obviously, it depends on what happens in those other races like Pennsylvania, but it certainly could happen and because of Georgia's unusual election laws and because neither one of these men has ever polled over 50 percent, that's why a lot of people here in the state are saying, you know, this is about tide. This is about -- also not just these two men, but control of the Senate and Joe Biden's administration and do you want a Senate that's going to help Joe Biden get further or that's going to put the brakes on what Joe Biden is doing? And so, those are really the stakes that we're looking at.

SMERCONISH: Patricia Murphy, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: OK. Still to come, more of your social media reaction to today's program and have you voted yet? Here's the poll question. Very provocative. God forbid Putin launches a tactical nuke in Ukraine, what should be the military response from the U.S. and NATO?


Do we go nuclear? Do we use conventional warfare or nothing at all?


SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the poll question at If Putin launches a tactical nuke in Ukraine, how should the U.S., how should NATO respond militarily? Do we go nuclear, conventional or not at all? Here is the result. Seventy-five percent say 24,000 votes, a lot of votes, 70 -- yes, I am in that category, too.


Seventy-five percent say nuclear -- say conventional, pardon me, not nuclear. Interesting that six percent say, not at all. Conventional gives us the ability, I think, to cast him as the pariah that he is and would be, God forbid, in that scenario.

Social media reaction. What do we have? We only time for one or two.

Nothing not our concern. Tired of fighting other countries' battles.

You know, I said on Bill Maher last night, to me it's reminiscent of -- and Elie Wiesel pointed this out at the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, the decision not to bomb the tracks going to Auschwitz Birkenau, if we knew he was about to strike with nuclear weapons in Ukraine, how could we do nothing?

I don't think you can defend that. It would be -- it would be the 40s -- 1944-ish redux and I don't think we could do it. Thank you for watching. I wish I had more time.