Log In

Reset Password

Opinion: Fetterman breezes to Senate nomination

While Republicans Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick are locked in a neck-and-neck struggle for the U.S. Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman routed his nearest competitor by 30 points.

Fetterman and the ultimate winner of the GOP nomination will square off in November to determine who takes over for Pat Toomey, the Lehigh County Republican who decided not to run for re-election.

Most political observers were expecting a much closer race between Fetterman and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., but the 6-foot-9-inch, tattooed and shorts and hoodie-wearing Fetterman was the first to declare his candidacy, raised a ton of money by being the first out of the box and rewrote the textbook after his dismal showing for the same office in 2016 when Toomey won re-election. The best Fetterman could do was finish a distant third in a four-candidate race for the Democratic nomination. In 2016, Toomey won a narrow victory over Democratic nominee Katie McGinty.

This time around, Fetterman came in first in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Even having a stroke days before the primary and having a pacemaker implanted on primary election day could not derail the Fetterman express.

Fetterman and his doctors say they expect him to make a full recovery and confirmed that there was no cognitive damage from the stroke. Seeing Fetterman cast an emergency absentee ballot from his hospital room was surprising, to say the least, but it matches up with his tough-guy image.

A native of West Reading, graduate of Albright College and former mayor of Braddock, a borough of about 1,800 near Pittsburgh, Fetterman tied his coattails to Tom Wolf, and the team won an easy victory over Scott Wagner and running mate Jeff Bartos four years ago.

Fetterman’s nomination represents a deviation from the selection of more moderate candidates by Democratic voters in recent elections. Analysts believe Fetterman was able to appeal to voters by his down-to-earth, populist appeal, whereas the more formal Lamb sought mainstream party endorsements and ran a much more conventional campaign.

Fetterman makes no bones about his being a populist-progressive candidate, but he also stressed that he is an advocate of common sense and has steered clear of some of the extreme left positions taken by national Democratic progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.

In recent years, Democrats have embraced top-of-the-ticket newcomers, including Tom Wolf, when he came out of nowhere to unseat incumbent Republican Tom Corbett in the 2014 gubernatorial race. While Fetterman is not a newcomer in the strictest sense and brought significant name recognition as lieutenant governor to the campaign, he is not seen as part of the political establishment, choosing instead to march to his own drum when it comes to political strategy.

There are still a number of Democrats who believe that Lamb’s more moderate brand of politics would have been more acceptable to independent and Republican voters in the general election. Still, there is no quarreling with Fetterman’s strategy of going straight to the voters and largely circumventing the Democratic establishment that Lamb courted.

Lamb had hoped to win the endorsement of the Democratic State Committee, which ultimately decided not to endorse candidates this year.

Fetterman netted strong attention through a statewide marijuana decriminalization listening tour in 2019, which brought him to counties in our area.

With the general election less than six months away, Fetterman’s next challenge is even more daunting. He has shown that he can raise money, but now he will be up against a multimillionaire with baskets full of cash, regardless of which two Republicans wins the nomination. McCormick, Oz and their respective supporters spent about $55 million in the primary, by far the most of any other primary in the nation, and the general election will be equally costly.

The question of Fetterman’s health is sure to be an issue - if not openly, then behind closed doors. The word “stroke” will strike fear and loathing among some prospective voters. How Fetterman handles this in his day-to-day actions once he is back on the campaign trail will go far in minimizing whether his health will be a factor in the way voters cast their ballots. In the 24-hour period after the primary, Fetterman’s campaign received $1.6 million in donations.

Fetterman has an ace in the hole: his wife, Gisele, who has become a celebrity in her own right as she has accompanied and stood in for her husband at campaign events. In fact, she was very impressive when she delivered her husband’s victory speech on election night.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.