Is Fetterman walking away from the Pennsylvania Senate race?
(The Hill) — The gloves have yet to be taken off against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary — and those expecting blue-on-blue bloodshed likely won’t get it.
Blessed with an outsized personality, a stack of cash and a playbook that reflects past populist campaigns, analysts say Fetterman is taking the lead in the party’s nominating contest. If he wins, he will face a Republican for an open seat in a state that could decide who controls the Senate.
The Liberals say he can do it. They see the over six-and-a-half-foot-tall Fetterman — bald, outspoken, with a semi-permanent scowl — as an outsider capable of wooing voters on the battlefield Joe Biden and Donald Trump each have won by less than two points.
In politics, he leans mostly to the left. But don’t call him Bernie Sanders, a socialist or even a progressive. He’s hard to score, and that’s part of the appeal, some Democrats say.
“He doesn’t pass a lot of the litmus tests that you’ve seen progressives try to urge candidates to,” said Adam Jentleson, executive director of the Battle Born Collective and former deputy chief of staff to the late Senate Majority Leader. Harry Reid (D- Nev.).
“He manages to cross over into the normal world in a way that I don’t think you’ve seen in other so-called progressives,” he said. “That’s why I think the label doesn’t quite match.”
An iconoclast he is not. Fetterman plays well with the establishment and shares some of their views. He supported himself President Bidenand helped Terry McAuliffe bid for governor of Virginia. He is against expanding the Supreme Court and supports fracking. He did not criticize the party. He even gets the occasional retweet from White House chief of staff Ron Klain.
“He’s not trying to tick all the boxes,” Jentleson said.
That doesn’t mean he’s a centrist either.
Fetterman, pro-union with a rotation of assorted rolled up shirts, wants higher wages for workers and loves small dollar donations for his own candidacy. His average campaign contribution is $28, just a dollar more than the $27 that fueled Sanders’ first presidential run.
He wants more government involvement on things like Medicare for All, the universal health care proposal where even some progressives are divided. He sees climate change as an issue of racial justice. He also wants the weed to be legal, period.
“John,” as his aides and allies call him, has long been in favor of these things, they say. They are popular in polls across the country.
“Voters don’t have to be convinced that John isn’t like other politicians,” said Joe Calvello, Fetterman’s communications director. “They know it as soon as they see him get out of his truck. In 2022, this is a very good thing.
Some establishment figures are not convinced.
Democratic operatives look to the primary in late May, in which Fetterman will face Rep. Connor Lamb, a Navy veteran and rising star among House moderates, and Malcolm Kenyatta, a black state House rep. who is openly gay, as a test of eligibility in the Midwest.
Biden won the Pennsylvania Purple by 1.8 points in 2020, and Republicans are trying to ensure that retired Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R) seat remains in GOP hands.
A super PAC supporting Lamb, in a move first reported by Politics earlier this week laid the groundwork for attacks on eligibility, effectively portraying Fetterman as just as left-bound as Sanders or the Squad and painting Lamb as a more palatable alternative.
While some moderate Democrats admit Republicans may try to portray Lamb as a similar liberal, they think that won’t ring so true.
“The ability of a progressive Democrat to turn a Republican Senate seat into a Democratic Senate seat, historically, is a very difficult thing to overcome,” said Christina Proctor, who chairs the Democratic Party in Washington County. .
“It’s much more likely that we’ll go from a Republican Senate seat to a moderate Democrat. In my mind, it makes more sense for the Democrats to choose the moderate candidate,” she said.
Democrats backing Lamb, 37, believe their best chance of beating Fetterman, 52, is saying he also can’t win in volatile areas and his views don’t align with party leadership. They see him as too left-wing to succeed in the state the president, a native of Scranton and himself a moderate, won so narrowly.
“They’ll weaponize him as a socialist and those kinds of talking points that Republicans really like to talk about,” Proctor said.
But some Democrats are skeptical of its effectiveness. With less than two months to go, eligibility questions have so far remained flat.
Fetterman won statewide as lieutenant governor, a success Allies say shows he’s more of a Pennsylvania pragmatist than a fire-breathing progressive. In style and substance, he is different from others who have shunned party orthodoxy.
“I don’t think it’s a moderate vs. progressive battle,” said one well-placed liberal strategist. “His [about] a candidate who embraces the issues that the majority of Pennsylvanians stand with.
In another high-profile Midwest primary, former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner, who co-chaired Sanders’ last campaign, was defeated by Rep. Shontel Brown (D), who adopted a more moderate posture and received the approval of prominent centrists. Turner went after Biden, which created more ill will. The two are heading to a new match later this year.
Stylistically, Fetterman took a different approach. He is seen as a trusted friend to his Democratic administration colleagues on the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, who have each been neutral in the race.
“He’s not saying he’s here to take over or change the Democratic Party, but rather that he’s here to portray himself as the strongest Democrat in the race,” Jentleson said.
Fetterman prioritized immigration and gun reform, LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, and the $15 minimum wage — all positions Biden endorsed. And he didn’t say he wanted to “defund the police”, another cautious choice not to side with activists on a controversial slogan.
Several sources close to Fetterman told The Hill that they consider this willingness to work with party loyalists an asset. A probing letter from Lamb’s PAC showed Fetterman in double figures, according to the Politico report.
Moderates who are already skeptical of the possibility of winning Fetterman, however, expect any urge to turn negative at the last minute to come from political action committees, not the candidates themselves.
“Somebody will do it. And it will be outside,” Proctor said.
But so far the slander has been minimal. Even progressives — who like to use purity tests to gauge a candidate’s dedication — haven’t faulted him for being against court packaging or leaning on the infrastructure bill more than “Building Back Better”.
There are also personal qualities to consider.
The way fellow populists Sanders and Trump have had electoral overlap, including with working class and rural voters, Fetterman has the potential to draw voters looking for something different to traditionally overlooked pockets of Pennsylvania. .
“Fetterman has united people who understand that to win these races, Democrats need to build our support in rural areas again,” the progressive strategist said.
This approach worked for Sens. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, John Tester in Montana, and even Joe Manchin in West Virginia, who tapped into qualities that resonate with them and got them re-elected by voters of all parties.
Fetterman hopes to connect with people “as human beings,” the strategist said, not just about politics. “To convince voters, you have to have that authenticity.”