Abraham’s back – can she go the distance?

    Is Lynne Abraham finished?

    It’s a rude question, but there was some pretty devastating coverage today of her collapse on stage in the opening moments of last night’s televised mayoral debate.

    For a 74-year-old candidate whose age hasn’t been mentioned in media coverage for weeks, the images of her lying on the stage and questions raised by pundits in newspaper accounts are exactly what she didn’t need.

    The Inquirer’s Chris Hepp and Claudia Vargas said she collapsed, “casting a pall over the event and the future of her campaign.” The account quoted three analysts speaking of serious consequences for her candidacy, including Democratic consultant Ken Smuckler, who said, “for every minute that she was on the floor, Jimmy [rival Jim Kenney] went up a point in the polls.”

    The Daily News‘ William Bender wrote that, judging from the post-debate buzz, “that might have been the sound of her campaign folding as well.”

    Patrick Kerkstra had a typically insightful and nuanced piece on the Philly Mag blog “Citified,” noting that the incident raised questions about her age again at a time when she needed a strong, aggressive showing in the debate.

    Tough Cookie refuses to crumble

    Abraham responded today the only way she could, by rising early and resuming her campaign, speaking at a well-attended breakfast forum sponsored by the BUILDPhilly coalition (see more about that debate here). She seemed completely herself to me at the forum — well-spoken, confident and focused.

    Afterward, she cheerfully took questions from me and any reporter who approached. She told me she was up at five this morning, feeling fit and ready for another busy day campaigning.

    “I’m staying the in race if anybody is wondering,” Abraham said, before I could ask about the impact on her campaign. “I wouldn’t drop out no matter what, no matter what.”

    “You know, Philadelphians are like Rocky,” she added. “We may get dropped to the canvas and we just get up and keep on fighting.”

    She said the fainting spell was a one-time embarrassment caused by dehydration, and she’s fine. She said she’ll see a physician to make sure there’s nothing to be concerned about.

    Time will tell how much impact the episode has. A critical question is whether potential contributors see her campaign as viable. She desperately needs to begin TV advertising to compete with her main rivals, Kenney and state Sen. Anthony Williams, and airtime is expensive.

    “It’s experience and performance that counts,” she said when I asked about that.”I think people will judge me on those things.”

    A little too tough?One more thing occurred to me. Abraham said she wasn’t feeling well at the debate because she’d eaten very little that day and didn’t drink enough water.

    That’s either a failure of her staff — or an unwillingness on Abraham’s part to pay attention to them.

    Good campaign operatives know that you take a major debate seriously, and you make sure your candidate is not only prepped on the issues, but rested, fed, and ready.

    Abraham has a fearless self-confidence that’s part of her charisma, but it can be a liability, too. I can imagine her trusting that she can walk into any situation and handle it, no problem, whether she’s physically compromised or not.

    Part of leadership is knowing your limitations and relying on others when you have to.

    Abraham can’t afford another episode like this, and even calling in sick once will probably attract more attention. She better make sure there’s always a sandwich and a bottle of water nearby.

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