In This Episode
- John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat, is hanging on to his lead over his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz. But Republicans are sharpening their attacks by questioning Fetterman’s health and fitness for office, after he suffered a stroke earlier this year.
- Things are heating up in Arizona’s secretary of state race, where Democrat Adrian Fontes is squaring off against far-right MAGA Republican Mark Finchem to become the state’s top election official. Fontes tells us what’s at stake, and why these offices are so important.
- And in headlines: Baltimore prosecutors dropped charges against Adnan Syed, Nury Martinez announced she’s taking a “leave of absence” from the L.A. City Council, and Tulsi Gabbard said she’s leaving the Democratic Party.
- Pod Save America: “Of MAGA and Midterms (with John Fetterman!)” – https://crooked.com/podcast/of-maga-and-midterms-with-john-fetterman/
- Vote Save America: Every Last Vote – https://votesaveamerica.com/every-last-vote/
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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, October 12th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What A Day where we’re encouraging leaves to turn a different color other than, you know, the basic orange, yellow or brown.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Listen, those colors have been done. We are tired of it. It is a new year. It is time for new leaves.
Juanita Tolliver: Give me some Carolina blue.
Priyanka Aribindi: Give me something new. Yeah, something we haven’t seen before. [music break] On today’s show, President Biden is now calling on members of the L.A. City Council to resign after they were caught on tape making racist remarks. Plus, a voting scandal has rocked Alaska’s fat bear week.
Juanita Tolliver: Oh, my. But first, today’s episode of the Senate showdown. Yes, I just made that up. Bear with me. We’re zooming in on Pennsylvania, the commonwealth where straight talking Democrat John Fetterman is facing off against New Jersey resident Republican Mehmet Oz. This is one seat Democrats are hoping to flip their way in the fight to maintain control of the Senate in November. And the race is tight.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. So exactly how tight of a race are we talking here? I know that Fetterman was ahead of the polls by quite a bit earlier this summer. Where are we at now?
Juanita Tolliver: Right. So during the past few months, Fetterman has enjoyed a healthy double digit lead that hit 12 points in August.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow.
Juanita Tolliver: Which is huge. You got to consider, look, Biden won Pennsylvania by only 0.7 points in 2020. Trump did the same. He won it by 0.7 points in 2016.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Juanita Tolliver: It’s not called a battleground state for nothing, you know. So no one should be surprised that Fetterman’s 12 point lead in the polls the summer is now closer to six points. And of course, as more and more voters tune into the race during the final month, we can expect to see it get even tighter. We can also count on seeing how Fetterman’s campaign leverages every single gaffe and screw up that Dr. Oz commits. Like I’m sure we all saw the crudités search at Wegners not Wegmans.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh we did.
Juanita Tolliver: You know and–
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh we did.
Juanita Tolliver: –most recently Oz decided to speak at an event in front of Hitler’s literal car. Even SNL got in on that mess. And Fetterman’s campaign also put up billboards on I-95 near the Link, which is Lincoln Financial Field, the stadium where the Eagles play and includes a picture of Oz in Dallas. And they’re calling him a Cowboys fan. So, you know, that’s going to piss off some voters, right?
Priyanka Aribindi: I love it. Keep it coming.
Juanita Tolliver: Every single week they have owned this guy. They’ve owned him outright. And I got to give a shout out to Fetterman’s campaign team, especially his digital team. They have been on it and they’re one of the best in the business. But again, there’s no shortage of material.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. Their team is fantastic, has been churning out this material for months and months. So big ups to them. But how are Republicans responding to all of this? I don’t feel like they are taking these hits particularly well. What has their rebuttal been?
Juanita Tolliver: Well, we know the rebuttal is not defending Oz.
Priyanka Aribindi: No.
Juanita Tolliver: They’re not even going to touch that. They’re just hoping those gaffes disappear. Right. But they’re trying to pivot to crime and attacks on Fetterman’s health similar to races across the nation Republicans are using the decades old scare tactic of crime to motivate their supporters to turn out and vote. Specifically, they’re criticizing Fetterman for his role as chair of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and his advocacy to commute sentences and eliminate mandatory life sentences without parole. I mean, that sounds reasonable to me Priyanka I don’t know.
Priyanka Aribindi: I mean.
Juanita Tolliver: Of course, this will have some impact as the polls continue to narrow. But Republicans are also raising questions about Fetterman’s health after he suffered a stroke in May. Republicans argue that because of his stroke, Fetterman is unfit for office and that he’s too sick to serve. But Fetterman made it clear in an NBC interview last night that his continued recovery would not impact his ability to serve in the Senate.
[clip of unspecified NBC news reporter] You’ve been on this road of recovery. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy. This is a serious health conditon. This is a serious health issue that you experienced. What has that recovery process been like? How has it changed your day to day experience?
[clip of John Fetterman] It changes everything.
[clip of unspecified NBC news reporter] Yeah.
[clip of John Fetterman] Everything about it is changed. Basically having a conversation with your wife to having a conversation with your children especially early after the stroke. The ability to really understand what exactly what I’m being heard is, but it gets much, much better where I take in a lot, but to be precise, I use captioning. So that’s really the major uh challenge. And every now and then I’ll miss a word every now and then. Sometimes I’ll maybe mush two words together, but as soon as I have captioning, I’m able to understand exactly what’s being asked. But even after the stroke, immediately after that, I was able to read everything and I haven’t lost any memories or anything like that. It’s just really the lingering issue that I have.
Juanita Tolliver: Look, auditory processing issues and speech challenges are not disqualifying. If anything, Fetterman represents people who are also living with long term health challenges. Recovering from strokes and living with disabilities is not disqualifying and is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. And honestly, I appreciate that Fetterman goes on in that interview to describe how his recovery has made him even more empathetic to other Americans who are experiencing these challenges.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. And he’s being fully honest about where he’s at–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: –And where he was. And he’s still out there. He’s talking to voters. He’s communicating with them. Clearly, they are still liking what he is offering. So I don’t really think this conversation about like, can he do it? Can he? Whatever. Like, it seems like he’s been doing great so far and his recovery has been really, really fantastic.
Juanita Tolliver: He is doing it.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s going to be a tough road and Republicans certainly aren’t going to give him an easy time. But–
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: I really hope that people don’t count this against him. Pod Save America also spoke to Fetterman about a month ago. He said he’s feeling great, he’s living a normal life, which is amazing. We’ll link to that interview in our show notes. But looking ahead in Pennsylvania, what should we expect next in this race? I know there is a debate coming up. What else is happening here?
Juanita Tolliver: Look, so the timing of this national interview is not surprising because the only debate for the Senate seat is coming up on October 25th. And it was important for Fetterman to publicly address his recovery, the auditory and speech challenges he’s experiencing, and any aids that he’ll be utilizing at the debate so that he can hear and engage. And I want to reiterate, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about here. And honestly, I do hope Fetterman feels supported and has every single accommodation that he will need, like captioning as he continues this race and continues his recovery. Because like I said Priyanka, he is doing it. He’s demonstrating that he’s fit to do this with all of the accommodations that he needs.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. Speaking of the midterm elections, though, it is Wednesday WAD squad and as you know, on Wednesdays leading up to the midterms, we like to do a little segment here called WAD the Vote.
[clip of intro music for WAD the Vote] WAD the Vote.
Juanita Tolliver: I even did a lip bite with my shimmy today. [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: It never gets old. It really never gets old.
Juanita Tolliver: All right, Priyanka, what are we talking about today?
Priyanka Aribindi: So another competitive battleground state in this year’s elections is Arizona. And today we are zeroing in on a hot race that has dominated headlines. It is for Arizona’s secretary of state.
Juanita Tolliver: All right, hold up. You said a hot race.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Secretary of state elections weren’t always hot, right?
Priyanka Aribindi: No.
Juanita Tolliver: If anything, they were boring and were not politically charged at all.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally.
Juanita Tolliver: That’s no longer the case, though, after these office holders were attacked for how they handled the 2020 election, like in Georgia and Michigan. So what can you tell us about this race in Arizona?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So secretaries of state handle each state’s elections, which these days is a very big deal, regardless of which state we’re talking about. Hint, hint, wink, wink. Now is probably a great time to look up who is running in your area and make sure you know about the candidates in that race. But back to Arizona. The battle to be Arizona’s top election official is between Democratic candidate Adrian Fontes and this hardcore MAGA Republican Mark Finchem.
Juanita Tolliver: All right. Finchem sounds like he’s bad news. Like, not only is he an election denier and a member of Oath Keepers.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: But he was also at the Capitol on January 6th. He’s a–
Priyanka Aribindi: The trifecta.
Juanita Tolliver: –insurrectionist.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s the trifecta.
Juanita Tolliver: Like he hit all the points.
Priyanka Aribindi: All of them.
Juanita Tolliver: He even said during a debate last month he was interviewed by the House panel investigating the insurrection. It’s like he wears it as a badge of honor or something.
Priyanka Aribindi: No, that’s not the flex you think it is.
Juanita Tolliver: Not at all. And we’ll get more into who he is in just a second. But first, let’s talk about Adrian Fontes.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely so I had a chance to speak with him recently. He is a lawyer, a marine Corps veteran. He previously served as Maricopa County Recorder, overseeing local elections there. It was a really honest, frank conversation, not like I’m used to having with typical elected officials and people running for office. It was really, really refreshing. I started out by asking him why all eyes are now on these top election offices and why Arizona’s secretary of state race is so important:
Adrian Fontes: Well, some people are trash and their perception of the way democracy is in their head. They just can’t understand that after an election, some people win and some people lose.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Adrian Fontes: And they want to just make up stories and create mythologies about this, that and the other. And that’s not good for democracy. As far as the importance of this, it couldn’t be more important. And particularly in my race, the differences between myself and my opponent couldn’t be more stark. And unfortunately, secretary of state races have the profile they ought to, this should be really a ministerial job. It should be a very sort of nonpartisan or bipartisan exercise sort of a thing. But uh yeah, a lot of folks have taken us to the brink of autocracy. And so now the core functions of democracy, the basic pulse of elections that keeps this country going is a lot more important now.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right. I just want to commend you on such a refreshingly straightforward answer. Thank you. But, you know, with all of this in mind, tell us a little more about why you are running to be Arizona’s next secretary of state.
Adrian Fontes: People always talk about the most important election of our lifetime. This could be the last election of our lifetime if we don’t have bulwarks against what we’re facing. I mean, look, we know what this vindictive Supreme Court did to Roe v. Wade, 50 years of precedent. They all told the Senate Judiciary Committee that they believed in stare decisis, which is a Latin phrase for, hey, don’t mess with it. It’s good to go. And who knows? This Voting Rights Act is up next. And we’ve got to have folks who understand voting. I’m an attorney. I’ve worked in the constitutional law area. I know election law pretty well. I’m the former county recorder here in Maricopa County. We’ve got to have someone in Arizona who’s going to stand against that and stand for voters. We’ve got 2024 just around the corner. It’s a critical national election. We’ve got to have folks that are willing to call balls and strikes. And if I’ve proven anything, it’s that I’ve got the integrity to do that so.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, you mentioned a little bit earlier. Really quickly, your opponent. So tell us a little bit more about him. Mark Finchem, he’s already falsely claimed that Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2020. He even called for the arrest of the current Arizona secretary of state. So, you know, unfortunately, he’s not the only one who has these opinions. We’re hearing similar rhetoric from a lot of these candidates around the country. So in your mind, what does that say about our current political discourse? What’s at stake in Arizona and what are the biggest differences between you and him?
Adrian Fontes: Well, Priyanka, you hit on the easy stuff, right?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Adrian Fontes: The election denier, January 6th Insurrection attendee and planner. This guy’s been doing some fun stuff for a long time. I mean, 30 years ago, he started advocating for a civil war in the United States of America. In 2014, he became an oath keeper. He’s been a proud member of that organization since then and has online continuously advocated that folks stockpile ammunition and weapons for the upcoming Civil War. And the question I have for my opponent, for Arizona’s secretary of state is, Mr. Finchem, which Americans do you want to kill first in this war? That’s the difference between me, a marine Corps veteran who swore to uphold and protect the Constitution and that guy who wants to violently overthrow the government of the United States of America. Arizona’s secretary of state race is ground zero in this battle for American democracy, as against this kind of tyrannical autocracy that some of these wild eyed extremists are promoting. And so you can’t find a more stark difference than between that guy and myself.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. What do you think is ultimately motivating him and, you know, others like him who are campaigning on this idea that the 2020 election was stolen still now.
Adrian Fontes: He’s a coward. He’s afraid of the world that’s changing around him. He thinks it’s out of control. He doesn’t want to have to be part of a meritocracy where men and women and folks of all colors and faiths are created equally. And he’s going to have to compete. He can’t just rest on how he was born and he’s scared to death that he’s got to, you know, compete against the rest of us. I think that’s what it is. It’s equality. And they don’t want that.
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely. So what are you hearing on the ground from Arizonans about what they want to see from their next secretary of state? What are they most concerned about going into this election? What are you hearing?
Adrian Fontes: Look, at the end of the day, what I’m hearing on the ground is we need normalcy. We need people who are going to just move things forward. Right. Like a Chevy truck. Elections are the heartbeat of America. You have an election and then you don’t. And then you have an election and then you don’t. And in the you don’t have election time periods, people just want government to get out of the way. They want the opportunity to do their business or to do their industry or their tech or their law or their medicine–
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Adrian Fontes: –Or their education or their arts and sciences. The constant chaos, the unpredictability, the upheaval that the extreme right wing presents is dangerous for all sectors of society. So I’m really the bulwark against that in this race. And that’s what makes it so much more critical that we get out the vote here in Arizona.
Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Adrian Fontes, the Democratic candidate for Arizona’s secretary of state. We’ll keep following this race as we get closer to the midterms, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Juanita Tolliver: Baltimore prosecutors have dropped all charges against Adnan Syed, the man whose murder case was the subject of the hit podcast Serial. To refresh your memory, Syed was released from prison last month after his conviction was overturned in the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, his former girlfriend. This gave prosecutors 30 days to decide whether to try Syed again or dismiss the case. The state’s attorney for Baltimore told reporters yesterday that new DNA testing proves Syed’s innocence and she apologized again to Syed who served 23 years in prison for the crime, as well as to Lee’s family, who still does not have justice. The investigation into Lee’s true killer is still ongoing.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that is 23 years, probably more, including the trial–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: –Of Adnan Syed’s life that he will never get back. It’s crazy to even think about. I’m so happy that he’s out. But wow. Crowds of angry protesters showed up to yesterday’s L.A. City Council meeting to demand the resignations of Nury Martinez, Kevin de León, and Gil Cedillo. Just before the meeting, Martinez announced that she will take a leave of absence. But she and her colleagues have yet to officially step down days after they were heard making racist remarks on a leaked audio recording from last year, many of the demonstrators waved signs that said, among other things, quote, “All racists must resign”. Feels like a pretty straight forward policy to me. And several speakers took to the podium during public comment to voice their anger and their disappointment. Among them was Mike Bonin, the white Council member who was one of the people attacked in the audio, as well as his Black son. Here is what he had to say:
[clip of Mike Bonin] Asking for forgiveness is a good first step. Well, it’s a second step because first you must resign and then ask for forgiveness.
Priyanka Aribindi: You heard him. President Biden actually also joined the widespread calls for Martinez, de León and Cedillo to resign, condemning their racist remarks as, quote, “unacceptable,” and I feel like if the president is out here telling you uh you need to quit your job, you need to quit your job.
Juanita Tolliver: Look, Mike Bonin said what he said and I appreciated it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: When Joe, who is, like, literally the friendliest dude ever, is like, hey, that ain’t going to fly here. I appreciate it. But when I tell you, these commentators who stepped up to voice their opinions, they came and pretty much said everything that was on their minds, as they should have, because these–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: –Council members need to hear it. And I love that it was made plain as day that all racists must resign. No if, ands or buts about it. That’s what it is.
Priyanka Aribindi: These council members work for these people. They have to listen to what they have to say. And if they want them out of there, they should leave.
Juanita Tolliver: Right. I think this is the definition of accountability. So.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally.
Juanita Tolliver: Get used to it. For the first time ever. Experts in the U.S. are recommending anxiety screening for all children between the ages of eight and 18 during their annual checkups. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued the new guidance yesterday. It comes after the panel previously recommended that doctors screen preteens and teenagers for depression. The recommendations point to growing concerns from medical professionals about the youth mental health crisis. Data from the CDC collected before the pandemic found that more than 5 million children nationwide suffer from anxiety, while over 2 million struggle with depression. And experts worry that these numbers have only grown since COVID. I assure you they’ve only grown since COVID. And honestly, I wish when I was between ages of eight and 18, I had been asked about anxiety or depression because I’m sure it would have helped and gotten me additional help.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally, yeah. That’s not just a thing that affects adults. That’s not just a problem that we have to deal with. If you are a caretaker of a child or you’re a parent like, take this seriously because kids have emotions. Kids feel things. Kids have anxiety and stress and depression.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: All of those things are very real. Even if you didn’t experience it, if you don’t think that kids should be dealing with those things, they still do. So it’s really important and definitely take them to those checkups. Embarking on a long overdue journey of self-discovery is former presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who realized after a million Fox News appearances that she might not be a Democrat anymore. Here she is making her big announcement yesterday.
[clip of Tulsi Gabbard] I can no longer remain in today’s Democratic Party that’s under the complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers–
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh.
[clip of Tulsi Gabbard] –who are driven by cowardly wokeness. Who divide us by racializing every issue and stoking anti-white racism.
Priyanka Aribindi: [laughter] Literally, what did we just listen to? That was the only time the phrase anti-white racism will be spoken on the podcast. News of Gabbard’s defection came as a shock to some and specifically to the people who didn’t know that she was still a Democrat. The former congresswoman from Hawaii has been on a steady rightward drift over the past few years and has made repeated comments in support of authoritarian leaders like India’s Narendra Modi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Juanita Tolliver: When you were playing that clip I just wanted to plug my ears, but I feel like I have a journalistic responsibility to hear the asinine statements of Tulsi Gabbard. In the legendary words of Moi Renee, as quoted by Beyoncé on her Renaissance album, “Miss Honey Girl bye” Bye, Tulsi.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, see ya, please never.
Juanita Tolliver: NASA has successfully orchestrated the first ever head on collision in space. You may remember that two weeks ago, a vending machine sized spaceship called DART collided with an asteroid millions of miles from Earth. The test was designed by NASA to see if such a collision could shift space rocks out of orbit to give us a planetary defense system that’s better than the one the dinosaurs had, go figure. Well, the agency announced yesterday that the test was a success, and the asteroid in question was shifted even further out of orbit than scientists expected. All it took was a vending machine, I guess, you know, just lob it out there.
Priyanka Aribindi: I guess we’re safe, but I don’t know. I don’t know. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Who knows? With the rate that this planet is going, who really knows?
Juanita Tolliver: Who knows?
Priyanka Aribindi: Here is the real election fraud Republicans should be worried about. It is happening in an animal beauty contest. Get the people on Fox News in on this now because over the weekend, two gorgeous bears competing in the Katmai National Park and Reserves Fat Bear Week saw their fair fight devolve into chaos thanks to a 9000 last minute fake votes. No word on if they came from Russian bots. Contest administrators managed to delete those votes. And last night a winner was crowned in a contest that tracks the expansion of bears as they prepare to hibernate. 2020’s champion Bear 747 took the gold while Juanita’s pick, a relative newcomer 901 took a bite out of a very respectable second place.
Juanita Tolliver: I need a recount immediately. I feel like there was more tampering in this bear election.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I mean, Juanita needs a recount. I’m proud of 901. It was very, very exciting for all of us here at WAD, even though, you know my guy, 856 did not, not make it very far.
Juanita Tolliver: We don’t need to talk about losers.
Priyanka Aribindi: We don’t need to talk about it. [laughter] It’s fine. Wow. I’m [indistinct] I guess I did come in real hot, [indistinct].
Juanita Tolliver: You did. I just wanted to match that energy friend.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s so fine. We all forgot about it. It was last week. Anyways, please look these bears up online because they’re amazing round bodies must be seen to be believed.
Juanita Tolliver: Look, I feel like 901 put up a good fight. I was rooting for her. We were all rooting for 901. She could have done it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. In the great words of Tyra, and who are we to argue with those?
Juanita Tolliver: Tyra and the toxic America’s Next Top model. I feel like that’s the best parallel for this experience on Fat Bear Week.
Priyanka Aribindi: A little bit. And those are the headlines. [music break]
Juanita Tolliver: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, smash an asteroid and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just bear election results like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe.
Juanita Tolliver: I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
[spoken together] And don’t keep in touch Tulsi.
Juanita Tolliver: Girl bye.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’d rather not.
Juanita Tolliver: [indistinct]
Priyanka Aribindi: I’d rather not hear [laughter] a thing about that woman ever again, so please stop covering her.
Juanita Tolliver: And do not emerge in any shape, fashion or form in 2024. Girl kiss it goodbye. Keep it moving.
Priyanka Aribindi: She’s not even in the house right now. Is she running for something like why do we care?
Juanita Tolliver: Girl, logic has never applied.
Priyanka Aribindi: Why do we care? [laughter] [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.