Democrats’ hopes for the Senate now largely ride on a candidate more comfortable in cargo shorts and a hoodie than a suit. John Fetterman, the colorful lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, won the Democratic primary Tuesday days after suffering a stroke.
It was not immediately clear who Fetterman will face in the general election with the Republican senate-primary contest too close to call, but Democrats desperately need to take the seat held by Pat Toomey in order to maintain or expand their Senate majority in what will be a challenging year for the party. Fetterman, 52, is not scheduled to attend a victory party in Pittsburgh as he is recovering from the stroke he suffered last Friday. Hours before polls closed, it was announced he would undergo a surgical procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator in order to address atrial fibrillation that caused a blood clot leading to the stroke. He announced his surgery was successful and said he’s “on track for a full recovery.”
Fetterman became famous as the mayor of Braddock, where he was the frequent subject of stories for his attempts to revitalize the city during his 13 years on the job. He moved to Braddock, located outside of Pittsburgh, following a stint with AmeriCorps to start a GED program, and he cut a compelling figure for journalists to profile: a white, six-foot-eight mayor of a predominately Black borough; a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who had tattooed a series of dates on his body corresponding to when people were killed in Braddock. A particular point of pride for Fetterman was the time period during his tenure when the town celebrated five years without a murder.
In 2013, Fetterman was criticized for stopping a Black jogger while carrying a shotgun because he believed the man was involved in a nearby shooting. Police found that the jogger, Christopher Miyares, was unarmed and no charges were filed. Miyares says Fetterman pointed the shotgun at him, which Fetterman denies. Either way, he still says Fetterman deserves a chance to move beyond that day. “Even with everything I said, it is inhumane to believe one mistake should define a man’s life,” Minyares wrote in a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I hope he gets to be a Senator.”
Fetterman’s primary opponents, Representative Conor Lamb from the Pittsburgh area and Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, have brought up the incident in debates and throughout the campaign, raising concerns in some circles that it could be a liability for Fetterman in the general election. The attacks did little to shrink the wide lead Fetterman held in the polls throughout the campaign, however.
This is Fetterman’s second shot at the Senate. In 2016, he ran for the Democratic nomination to take on Toomey but lost. The following year, he ran successfully for lieutenant governor alongside Governor Tom Wolf, who won a second term in office. This time around, Fetterman is campaigning as a unifier who can pull voters from counties across the commonwealth, whether they’re from blue cities and suburbs or redder rural areas. While he doesn’t personally claim the moniker of “progressive,” he is advocating for a $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization, and abolishing the filibuster.