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Tipsheet

Democrats Appear to Be Testing Populism in PA Senate Race

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Keystone State has a US Senate race. Incumbent Republican Pat Toomey is retiring from public life, and once again we have ‘meh’ candidates. On the GOP side, Dr. Mehmet Oz is leading in the polls. On the Democratic side, it’s the current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. If I had to choose between the two, I’d opt to down a cup of hemlock. Pennsylvania has been a nightmare for Republicans statewide for quite some time. I’m not shocked we for the most part have sucky candidates. If Oz is bad, David McCormick, another GOP candidate, is even worse. I feel like the Buddhist monk in Saigon. I want to set myself on fire. 

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Yet, on the Democratic side, there is something new happening. The national party is steering clear. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has enacted a Switzerland protocol and is remaining neutral. They want to see how the chips fall, and by that—I mean progressives don’t want the DC crew to derail Fetterman’s candidacy, even though he holds a commanding lead in the primary. He also has a bigger war chest. Fetterman is the anti-Trump. He’s another attempt by Democrats to get their own brand of populism going with the electorate. It’s already taken hold of the GOP which gave us the biggest political upset in modern American history in 2016. Can Fetterman be that guy, or at least be the foundational piece for other like-minded Democratic candidates to follow?   

He's not necessarily woke. He’s about rural voters, getting America back to work, and appears to disagree with Joe Biden on the border. He’s pro-getting back to normalcy regarding COVID. He’s also not an urban-based elitist. For years, he was the mayor of Braddock which was a rundown town, and that’s being polite about it. He has played a huge part in its revival. As Politico noted, the man could pass for a Hells Angel but one with a master’s degree from Harvard in his wallet. And yes, not all Democrats like him (via Politico):

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Fetterman’s fans think his brand of economic progressivism and his Carhartt-wearing linebacker vibe make him uniquely able to win elections in the kinds of Rust Belt and white working-class areas where Democrats have been hemorrhaging support. In a party often seen as too elite, the lieutenant governor is unfussy and plainspoken—he poses for official government photos in workman’s shirts and calls Republicans “simps” on Twitter. Fetterman’s campaign is making the case that he has the best shot at picking off Trump voters in the general election.

That is, if he can get anywhere in the primary first. Already, he’s butting up against fierce resistance from a wide array of party leaders. Some take issue with his politics: Moderates think his deep commitment to getting repentant convicts out of life sentences is too radical. Progressives say he’s too squishy on fracking. Other Democratic honchos—from left to center—resent his go-it-alone attitude. They argue he’s a loner who doesn’t spend any time trying to build alliances with other pols—and that as a result he’ll be less effective in office.

But for many party leaders, this isn’t a question of “the intractable outsider” vs. “the establishment.” Fetterman’s candidacy hits at the heart of the debate roiling the Democratic Party today: Should the party try to win back working-class white voters who stray further from them every year or double down on the suburban and Black electorate that has powered their recent wins?

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Right now, the latter part of that question isn’t working. The Democrats are seen as radical, out-of-touch, and mostly comprised of woke college-educated white girls. They’re so shrill, that nonwhite voters are looking to the GOP for a safe space. Hispanic voter support for Joe Biden and the Democrats has collapsed. Asian-Americans might not be too far behind, given the Left’s endorsement of discriminatory practices regarding school admissions. Asians are not dark enough in the eyes of white liberals. The lack of self-awareness in the white woke Left’s anti-racism activism should not be lost on anyone. Time will tell, but let’s not claim this guy is like another Joe Manchin either.

Look, any Democrat who is sane will get an audience with me. I’ll pull up a seat, and probably disagree with 85-90 percent of what he or she has to say, but at least I know this person isn’t a pile of hot woke garbage. Fetterman might be able to win back some rural white worker support, but he’s really Bernie Sanders, something that Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel thought to remind us of a few days ago:

The liberal is 6-foot-8, has a goatee and tattoos, and revels in gym shorts, Carhartt and blue-collar Keystone culture. He has a penchant for trolling Republicans as “simps” and trashing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s attachment to the filibuster. While Mr. Fetterman grew up in Central Pennsylvania in affluence, he presents himself as the patron saint of the Rust Belt Working Joe.

This masks a Fetterman agenda that puts him squarely in the camp of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (whom he’s praised as a “luminary”) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (whom he endorsed for president in 2016). He supports Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports, gun control, climate “justice,” and a “de facto moratorium” on fracking. Perhaps a greater political problem in today’s environment, he’s spoken at defund-the-police rallies and made a priority of releasing felons from prison. Then there’s the 2013 incident in which, as mayor of Braddock, he pulled a gun on an unarmed black jogger.

Republicans are salivating to begin the attack ads. Mr. Lamb is openly campaigning on these Fetterman liabilities, and a super PAC supporting Mr. Lamb last month circulated polling data showing a precipitous drop in Mr. Fetterman’s support when respondents were presented with his agenda and record. State Democrats also worry the Fetterman pitch to Trumpian voters and the 2013 incident will turn off the urban minority and affluent suburban voters Democrats depend on.

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Strassel even goes further to say that Fetterman could lead to “longer-term political peril” for Democrats. Centrist Democrats are a rare breed. In fact, they’re about to get trounced in a few months. The Blue Dog Democrats, remember them? They virtually got wiped out in 2010. I don’t think Democrats need to worry about Fetterman alienating suburban voters. They’ve already done that through their antics on various school boards across the country. And the GOP shouldn’t get too warm to the idea of clipping Fetterman over that 2013 incident with an unarmed black jogger. The jogger has already said he hopes Fetterman wins the Senate race, adding that he’s done too much good to be judged on this incident. Second, it appears Fetterman didn’t know the race of the person. 

Also, if anything, the candidates running for Senate on the GOP would make me want to stay home. They’re all sorts of terrible for the most part. If Fetterman is the harbinger for longer-term ruin, then so be it. In all, this race is a mess. 

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