John Fetterman launches Senate bid in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman launches his Senate bid Monday, making him the first major candidate to enter what is all but certain to be a highly expensive and competitive race for the open seat.

The tattooed, 6-foot-8 Democrat, better known for wearing Carhartt and Dickies gear than a suit and tie, has been a media sensation for years. As a former mayor of Braddock, a struggling steel town outside of Pittsburgh, he has been portrayed as the face of the Rust Belt everywhere from CBS’ “Sunday Morning” to “The Colbert Report.”

Fetterman’s high profile has helped him build a fan base of grassroots donors. He raised more than $1.4 million in the weeks before announcing his candidacy.

Fetterman kicked off his Senate campaign by highlighting his support for organized labor, a $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization and LGBTQ rights. In his launch video, he made an appeal to residents throughout the famously divided state — his motto is “every county, every vote” — and pointed to his efforts to revitalize Braddock.

“I’m running because it’s kind of closing the circle on a 20-year journey I’ve been on,” he said in an interview with POLITICO. “I came to Braddock here 20 years ago in 2001, and it was a deliberate choice to do that. It was one of the most marginalized, forgotten, overlooked and abandoned communities in the state. And I wanted to work [for] issues — the central theme was inequality — and that’s what I did.”

The lieutenant governor is beginning his campaign with the support of two labor unions: United Steelworkers District 10 and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which together represent a total of nearly 80,000 workers in Pennsylvania.

Fetterman previously ran as an underdog for the Senate in 2016, unsuccessfully vying for Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat in a Democratic primary against the party favorite Katie McGinty and former Rep. Joe Sestak. In the midterms two years later, Fetterman defeated Democratic incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in a primary and won on the same ticket as Gov. Tom Wolf in the general election by double digits.

Fetterman, while again not expected to be the establishment choice, is now viewed as an early frontrunner in the Democratic primary with a strong base in western Pennsylvania.

Political insiders see Rep. Conor Lamb, who hails from the same part of the state, and Rep. Brendan Boyle, another labor ally, as two potential candidates who could compete for some of the same voters as Fetterman. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is eyeing the seat, could also contend with him for the support of progressives.

Fetterman did not take a position on whether the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should, unlike in 2016, stay neutral in the primary: “I haven’t truthfully given it really any thought.” He said he has not spoken with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Asked about his position on the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass most bills, he said it should be eliminated.

“Let’s be honest here: If Mitch McConnell is for something, that should give anyone pause to be like, ‘well, then I probably should be against it,’” he said.

Fetterman said he disagrees with lawmakers who want to limit additional stimulus checks so that they are phased out beginning at individuals earning more than $50,000 annually, and called it “a tragedy” that a higher minimum wage is looking like it won’t be passed in the economic rescue package.

Fetterman could face opponents in the Democratic primary challenging him from his left and right. He opposes a ban on fracking, a critical industry in Pennsylvania, and has not embraced the “Green New Deal.” He is also a self-described progressive who endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in 2016.

Fetterman said he agrees with parts of the Green New Deal — he wants to create millions of union jobs to transition away from fossil fuels — and has vowed to not take money from the fossil fuel industry. But when it comes to fracking, he said, “We can’t just throw [out] all of these union jobs and all these workers’ jobs and say, ‘Well, just go learn to code and maybe you can get on at Google or someplace.’”

Toomey announced last year that he will not seek reelection in 2022. The Pennsylvania race is widely seen as the best opportunity in the country for Democrats to gain a seat in the chamber. For Republicans, it is a must-win election in their campaign to take back the 50-50 Senate, which is now controlled by the Democrats due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to break ties.

The rare chance at an open Senate seat has attracted a number of potential candidates. Along with Lamb, Boyle and Kenyatta, other possible Democratic contenders include Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, state Sen. Sharif Street and Philadelphia City Council Member Helen Gym. John McGuigan, a former Norristown borough councilman, has declared his candidacy.

Among Republicans, former GOP Rep. Ryan Costello, ex-Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, real estate developer Jeff Bartos, 2018 gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango, former U.S. Attorney William McSwain, past U.S. Ambassador Carla Sands, 2020 House candidate Sean Parnell, business consultant Craig Snyder, and Reps. Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler are prospects.

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