Pennsylvania Democrats are angling to distinguish themselves in a key Senate contest
By: Don Gonyea (Originally published in NPR on February 22, 2022)
John Fetterman was at a brewpub in Pennsylvania’s Trump Country that was serving coffee to about 60 local Democrats who showed up on a Saturday morning.
The Democrats were thrilled the lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate candidate was in the rural area. Speaking to him, one local jokingly called it “enemy territory.”
“No, not enemy territory,” Fetterman replied, “just friends we haven’t met yet.”
Fetterman, a former small-town mayor from western Pennsylvania, is the early front-runner in a competitive Democratic primary that includes Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. The Senate seat, left open by the retiring Republican Pat Toomey, is a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats and could determine control of the chamber next year.
The brewpub stop was in Clarion, Pa., about an hour and a half northeast of Pittsburgh. Former President Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania in the 2020 election but carried the rural parts of the state by wide margins.
Later in the day, more than 100 people showed up for a Fetterman event at a fire hall in Smethport in the northern part of the state. The drive there rolled past countless signs and banners reading “Trump-Pence,” “Trump 2024” and “Impeach Biden.”
“And some folks would say, ‘Why would you waste your time?’ And I’m like, ‘because you have rooms like this, and you have people that have the same core values and same issues as you do,’ “ Fetterman told NPR in an interview. “And if you don’t show up and you don’t engage, then who else are they going to listen to?”
Fetterman’s image is that of the anti-politician. He’s 6-foot-8, with tattoos, a shaved head and a chin beard, and he listens to heavy metal in his truck. Despite the cold, his campaign wardrobe on the Saturday was shorts and an oversized Carhartt sweatshirt.
His stump speech is also informal and short and hits topics important to working-class voters: broadband, a living wage, access to health care. “We need to continually make more and more stuff in our country,” he said. “I just fundamentally believe that.” He has also made legalizing marijuana a key part of his platform.