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Sensemaker: All to play for

Sensemaker: All to play for

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A Russian fighter plane crashed into a residential building in the south of the country, killing four people.
  • Greece and Turkey traded blame after 92 migrant men were found bruised and naked between their borders.
  • Australia reversed a decision to recognise West Jerusalem as capital of Israel.

All to play for

All to play for. Control of the US Senate could be determined by a legendary NFL running back who opposes abortions in all circumstances but is apparently willing to pay for them for his own girlfriend. 

His name is Herschel Walker. He has no experience of politics but plenty of name recognition.

As a running back. At high school Walker won a record for touchdowns in a single season that stood for 20 years. As a student he was a human missile, winning the Heisman trophy and a place in the College [American] Football Hall of Fame. As an NFL icon he played 12 seasons for three teams including two stints with the Dallas Cowboys. 

As an anti-abortionist. Walker opposes abortion in all circumstances including rape and incest. As a political strategy this misfired spectacularly this month when he was accused of paying $700 for an abortion for a former girlfriend, and of urging her to get another when she fell pregnant again two years later. 

Multiple women including his ex-wife have also accused Walker of domestic violence. He denies the charges and says the abortion story is a lie, but his race for a Georgia Senate seat against the Democrats’ Raphael Warnock now looks winnable for Warnock, who leads in polls by about three points. 

The margin is slim but significant. In three weeks, US voters give a verdict on the Democrats’ first two years under Biden. It could render him a lame duck, powerless in Congress despite signs the fight for abortion rights will boost turnout in some states. Or it could keep the Senate blue and the legislative agenda in play, and races like Herschel’s mean there’s a chance the Democrats could avoid an out-and-out shellacking. 

The maths. There are elections for 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats: 21 are currently Republican, 14 Democrat. The Cook Political Report expects the Republicans to hold 19 and the Democrats 12, leaving each party with a base of 48 and four to fight for. Warnock’s seat in Georgia is one; the others are in Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania. 

Wisconsin. Ron Johnson, the Republican incumbent, backed Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and drew up a list of fake electoral votes for his state. That put off some voters early in the campaign but Johnson is now widening his lead over Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who’s trailing in polls and calling for backup. Obama flies in next week. 

Nevada. The Democrats’ Catherine Cortez Masto is up for a second term. Her opponent, Adam Laxalt, is another election denier but his campaign has been about inflation, not Trump. Nevada has some of the highest fuel prices in the US and its tourism-dependent economy was badly bruised by the pandemic. Blue-collar voters are suffering, and Laxalt is blaming Cortez Masto. 

Pennsylvania. Lt Gov John Fetterman was comfortably ahead until May, when he suffered a stroke which Mehmet Oz (a doctor in real life and formerly on Oprah) tried to exploit. “What kind of doctor roots for a guy that was sick to stay sick?” Fetterman asked at the weekend. He’s a 6’ 8” man-mountain liked for his straight talk and hoody-flavoured wardrobe but his campaign lost steam as he took time out to recuperate. He’s carving out a poll lead again now, accusing Oz of being a rich carpetbagger from New Jersey, which he is.

The Roe factor. Half of US voters are more likely to vote as a result of the Supreme Court ruling ending automatic access to abortion, according to a CNN poll published yesterday. Three in five women aged 18-49 specified that they opposed the ruling. But the economy ranks higher as a concern, nationally and – by a wide margin – in Georgia.

History note. In 1999 the pornographer Larry Flynt revealed that the Georgia congressman Bob Barr, a prosecutor in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, had paid for his wife to have an abortion and lied about it, while opposing abortion as a politician. Clinton clung on.


Exxon leaves Russia
It has taken seven months, but Exxon has quit Russia. BP left as soon as Putin invaded Ukraine and took a $25 billion hit. TotalEnergies, Equinor and Shell also made quick exits. Exxon held on, hoping for an orderly exit from its $4 billion stake in the Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project off Russia’s far eastern coast. “We made every effort to engage with the Russian government and other stakeholders,” a spokesman tells Reuters. But why? The Russian government had hardly shown itself to be an honest partner in energy extraction even before the war, expropriating investors when it suited the Kremlin. This seems to have happened again in Sakhalin. Exxon wrote off $3.4 billion linked to the field in April and has now written off another $600 million. Rosneft, Putin’s tame oil giant, has taken the whole stake. India and Japan are interested in acquiring parts of it. They should know better. 


China targets British pilots
China is trying to recruit former and serving British military pilots to train the People’s Liberation Army, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), with reports that up to 30 retired pilots – some with sophisticated fighter jet experience – have taken part in the programme. The MoD said it was taking “decisive” steps to stop the practice, but there is currently no law to stop pilots accepting the lucrative contracts that are worth upwards of £240,000 a year. The NYT said none of the pilots recruited operated the F-35, the most advanced fighter jet in the RAF, but some had flown warplanes including the Typhoon, Harrier, Jaguar and Tornado. James Heappey, armed forces minister, said pilots involved had been warned to quit and the law would be changed to enforce the message. He also revealed that such recruitment had been a concern “for years”, which prompts the question: why was nothing done sooner?

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

The Scottish pound  
As Trussonomics took its dying breath in Westminster, Sturgeonomics launched in Edinburgh with the third white paper in a series setting out a post-independence economic plan. The key components: Scotland would apply to be a member of the EU and introduce a Scottish pound “when the time is right”. That currency change would come with a Scottish central bank, a debt management office and an Office for Budget Responsibility by another name (Scottish Fiscal Commission). By rejoining the EU, Scots would be able to enjoy the Schengen free movement area but would also have to deal with goods checks on the English border. The Sturgeon model relies on the strength of the EU, profits from oil and gas and investment in renewables – essentially, on future growth. As David Phillips of the Institute for Fiscal Studies writes, the chaos of recent weeks means the markets “may not look favourably” on fiscal plans built on the “uncertain hope” of growth. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Coal comfort
In 2016 Trump told West Virginia’s coal miners to “get ready because you’re going to be working your asses off”. That was his promise if he won the presidency, and 13,000 American miners lost their jobs on his watch. The FT has been on a pilgrimage to coal country and found little evidence of Biden’s $370 billion green energy package changing minds about what makes the West Virginia economy tick. Against all the evidence, locals insist it’s still coal. The industry only employs about 11,000 people in the state now, down from about 130,000 at its peak in the war and more than 60,000 in the late 1970s. US coal output has halved since 2000 as renewables have plummeted in unit price and fracking remade America as a net energy exporter. “We should never have let ourselves become so completely addicted to just one industry,” a coalfield redeveloper says. No kidding. It’s messing with their heads. 


Ice cream lols 
Tortoise’s Matthew d’Ancona wrote yesterday that the last time the UK shredded its reputation for economic credibility – Black Wednesday in 1992 – the recovery took 16 years. Which raises the question: how much damage has been done to Britain’s diplomatic credibility, and how long will it take to claw it back? UK allies have been unusually critical of Truss’ tax plans: Biden said he “wasn’t the only one that thought it was a mistake” as he enjoyed an ice cream in Oregon, and Germany’s ambassador to the UK told reporters on 13 October that he “looked forward” to reported changes in her policies. The Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis openly joked: “If you need experience in dealing with the IMF, we’re here to help.” 

Thanks for reading. Please share this round, send us ideas and tell us what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Ella Hill

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jessica Winch and Phoebe Davis. 

Photographs Getty Images

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