Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman won the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday, kicking off an overall election battle that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Fetterman, a former mayor known for his towering height, bald head and casual attire, beat Rep. Conor Lamb and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta for his party’s nomination.
His victory is a triumph of personal branding, populist messaging and ideological flexibility over the power of elected state Democrats and party leaders, who have largely favored Lamb.
Fetterman also overcame a last-minute medical event. He suffered a stroke on Friday, sidelining him in hospital for the final days of the campaign.
“Fetterman seems to be able to communicate with both sides of the political aisle,” said Joseph DiSarro, professor of political science at Washington and Jefferson College. “It’s a setback for the regular Democratic establishment.”
Fetterman, seeking to succeed retired Sen. Pat Toomey (right), faces the winner of the crowded Republican primary in November.
Given his open-seat status in a swing state captured by President Joe Biden in 2020, Democrats see Toomey’s place in the Senate as perhaps their only major pickup opportunity in 2022 and a key to maintaining their fragile grip. over the superior legislative body.
Fetterman’s victory is the culmination of a unique political trajectory that began with his election as mayor of Braddock, a struggling small satellite of Pittsburgh, in 2005.
Benefiting from a family fortune which has sown a local associationFetterman became a larger-than-life booster for the predominantly black steel town, tattooing Braddock’s postcode on one arm and the dates of murders that occurred on his watch on the other.
His record as mayor brought him national fame, but drew mixed reviews from observers of local politics. Some Pittsburgh-area Democrats credit him with attracting new developments and revamping public services for low-income residents, while others say his greatest success has been raising his own political profile. .
Regardless, Fetterman has set his sights on higher office, casting himself as an unlikely progressive warrior in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose 2016 presidential bid Fetterman endorsed . Fetterman unsuccessfully sought the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2016, but had better luck running for lieutenant governor in 2018, a year of a Democratic wave. He won the nomination and won a statewide position alongside incumbent Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.
As lieutenant governor, Fetterman used his chairmanship of the state pardons board to aggressively promote clemency for convicted felons, and his bullying pulpit to advocate for the legalization of marijuana, LGBTQ rights and other causes.
He took advantage of the limited day-to-day responsibilities of his position to become a political commentator on MSNBC and tour all 67 counties of Pennsylvania, often visiting rural areas unaccustomed to the attention of Democrats. The relationships he has built with Democratic activists — if not party officials — in backcountry Pennsylvania would become a mainstay of his 2022 Senate bid.
“It’s a setback for the regular Democratic establishment.”
-Joseph DiSarro, Washington and Jefferson College
In recent years, Fetterman has also begun to distance himself from Sanders’ wing of the party. In the 2020 presidential election, Fetterman refused to endorse a presidential primary candidate and spoke out strongly against banning fracking, despite his ally Sanders’ support for a ban.
As a candidate for the U.S. Senate this cycle, Fetterman has continued to move toward the ideological center. He softened his stated commitment to Medicare for All, spoke out against Philadelphia reinstating a mask mandate and embraced the pro-Israel lobby’s talking points on US-Israel policy.
Fetterman’s evolution — and his favorite’s habit of avoiding the limelight of the media — has frustrated Lamb, a hardline moderate who ran on his winning record in a House quarter carried by the former President Donald Trump.
Lamb never seemed to recover from his late entry into the race. And his lackluster fundraising and polling throughout the primary undermined his argument that he was the most eligible candidate.
The Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, which sometimes picks favorites in primaries, declined to intervene on Lamb’s behalf. In early April, a number of Democratic senators, including moderates, told Politico they had made peace with Fetterman.
Fetterman still has a tough race ahead of him. He’s sure to come under attack from Republicans over his progressive political stances and his past ties to Sanders.
It also failed to completely shake the skepticism of some black progressives and Democrats about a 2013 incident in which Fetterman chased a black jogger while armed with a shotgun. Fetterman refused to apologize for his actions, saying he was responding to gunshots he heard nearby and did not know the identity of the jogger.
“He completely fumbled the answer to that,” said Mike Mikus, a Pittsburgh-area Democratic strategist who wants Fetterman to apologize. “I guarantee the Republicans will bombard the African American community with this issue and it could end up bringing down the entire statewide ticket.”
But the incident likely improves Fetterman’s standing in the eyes of some rural white voters, according to DiSarro, who lives in a community with many such residents.
“It helps in western Pennsylvania,” DiSarro said. “This is pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment territory.”
This is a developing story. Please check for updates.
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