PITTSBURGH – Rep. Conor Lamb thinks he knows what it takes for Democrats to win statewide in Pennsylvania.
He looks to President Biden, whose narrow victory in the state – called four days after Election Day – put him on top and in the White House.
“People will use the word moderate,” Lamb said Thursday at his South Hills home in Pittsburgh. âWe are a swing state. I don’t think we’re too far ideologically one way or the other. ”
In a union hall on Pittsburgh’s Hot Metal Street on Friday, Mr Lamb announced his long-awaited entry into the Pennsylvania Senate race in 2022, vowing to “fight for every vote in our state on every square inch of land. And presenting himself as just enough in the middle of the road to be elected statewide.
The question is whether he is liberal enough to win the Democratic primary.
Navy veteran and former prosecutor Mr Lamb, 37, is likely the last major candidate to enter what are expected to be competitive primary battles in both parties for the seat now held by Republican Senator Pat Toomey who is retiring.
It’s the only seat currently open to Republicans in a state Mr. Biden has occupied, and Democrats see it as their best opportunity to expand their skin-deep control over the Senate, where the partisan 50- split. 50 leaves Vice President Kamala Harris to throw. decisive voices. A single additional seat would mean a simple Democratic majority in the Senate, and at least some isolation for the White House from the whims of individual senators who now hold enormous influence, like moderates Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of West Virginia. Arizona. .
Mr Lamb rose to prominence in 2018 when he won a special House election in a district Mr Trump had won in double digits. He has won two more times in a redesigned but still politically mixed district, occupying independent positions including the vote against Representative Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. But while he presents himself as the strongest potential Democratic candidate precisely because of what he calls his bidenesque, centrist approach, aspects of his track record, including on guns and marijuana, are out of step. with many primary voters.
“Progressives are the most active in the party, and that makes it difficult for Lamb,” said Brendan McPhillips, who led Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign in Pennsylvania and does not work for a Senate candidate.
The first progressive favorite and presumed favorite for the Democratic nomination is Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a sort of folk hero of the national left, with some 400,000 Twitter followers relishing his “legal weed” posts. and his frequent beatings against Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema for not “voting like the Democrats”.
As the mayor of Braddock for 14 years, a poor community outside of Pittsburgh, Mr Fetterman has the dates of the local homicides tattooed on his arm. As lieutenant governor, he fought to forgive longtime nonviolent inmates.
Known for his laid-back work wardrobe consisting of un-tucked shopkeeper shirts and jeans, or even shorts, and for his imposing presence – he stands 6ft 8in with a shaved head – Mr Fetterman, 51, hopes please some working class whites. voters who have drifted in support of Mr. Trump. It has moved beyond fundraising, raising $ 6.5 million this year.
Yet Mr. Fetterman’s challenge is the reverse of Mr. Lamb’s: he could win the May primary but be seen as too liberal for Pennsylvania general election voters. “He’s the candidate many Republicans would like to face,” said Jessica Taylor, analyst for the non-partisan Cook report.
Potential primary liability also looms for Mr Fetterman in a 2013 incident while he was mayor of Braddock. After hearing what he took to be gunshots, Mr Fetterman stopped a black jogger and held him at gunpoint until police arrived. The man was found to be unarmed and was released. Mr Fetterman addressed the episode in February, explaining that he had made “split-second decisions” when he believed a nearby school could be in danger.
Yet, with police and vigilante violence against black men being an issue of great concern to Democratic voters, some party officials and strategists have expressed fears that, if nominated, Mr Fetterman could reduce black participation. . An outside group supporting the election of black candidates has already aired a radio ad in Philadelphia attacking Mr. Fetterman over the incident.
âIt’s most definitely a problem,â said Christopher Borick, political scientist and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. âIt hasn’t disappeared and it continues to resurface. It raises red flags.
In a statement, Mr. Fetterman’s campaign noted that he was “reelected by an overwhelming majority” four months after the Braddock incident, “a city of 80 percent black”, because voters over there “know John, and they know it had nothing to do with race.” He added that he had continued to “run and win statewide, and he is the only candidate to run for this Senate seat to have done so.”
If Democratic voters balk at Mr Fetterman and Mr Lamb, a path could open for alternative candidates, including Val Arkoosh, a county official in the key electoral suburb of Philadelphia and the only woman in the race, and Malcolm Kenyatta, a young telegenic legislative state from north Philadelphia.
Mr Kenyatta, who would be the state’s first black and openly gay Senate candidate if he wins, has traveled extensively in search of local backers but lags behind his rivals in fundraising.
Ms Arkoosh, a physician and chair of the council of commissioners for Montgomery County, the state’s third largest county, has the support of Emily’s List, which supports Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Together, Mr. Fetterman, Mr. Lamb and Ms. Arkoosh significantly outperformed their Republican counterparts in the quarter ending June.
While Democrats see a pattern in Mr. Biden’s 81,000-vote victory in the state last year, which swept away suburban voters dismayed at Mr. Trump, Republicans currently play almost exclusively at Base Make. America Great Again, telling the tale of a stolen 2020 election.
There is a proven path to statewide victories for Republicans in Pennsylvania, one taken by two GOP candidates last year who were elected treasurer and auditor general. They did so by edging out Mr Trump in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, where many graduate voters had traditionally backed Republicans but were pushed back by the intimidating and divisive former president.
Mr Toomey, the retired Republican senator, recently warned: “Candidates will have to come forward on ideas and principles, not on allegiance to a man.”
But few Republicans vying to succeed him seem to have listened.
Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger who lost a House race last year to Mr Lamb, has taken legal action to reject Pennsylvania’s 2.6 million mail-in votes, a case dismissed by the United States Supreme Court, and said it supports an Arizona-style audit. Pennsylvania ballots in 2020. Donald Trump Jr. has approved his candidacy for the Senate.
And Jeff Bartos, a major Philadelphia-area real estate developer and party donor who was supposed to appeal to suburban voters, also courted the Trump base, calling for a “full forensic audit” of the Pennsylvania election, though. that several courts have dismissed lawsuits. allegation of fraud or official misconduct.
Neither Mr. Parnell nor Mr. Bartos raised as much money in the last quarter as a black contestant, Kathy Barnette, a former financial executive who lost a congressional race on the Philadelphia mainline l ‘last year. Ms Barnette pushed the allegations of electoral fraud on far-right cable channels Newsmax and OAN.
A longtime Republican consultant to the state, Christopher Nicholas, said there were three avenues available to GOP candidates: “Super-MAGA-Trump, Trump-adjacent, and not so much Trump.”
Lately, he said, almost everyone has gone down the “Super-MAGA-Trumpy” path.
“As a Republican you have to watch how far you go to the right to win the primary, so that it doesn’t do them irreparable harm in the general election,” Nicholas said.
Mr Lamb faces a similar challenge as a moderate in the Democratic primary.
He’s sure to be hit hard by some past positions, including his opposition to a 2019 assault weapons ban and his vote the previous year to permanently extend the Trump administration’s individual tax cuts.
More recently, Mr Lamb has remained more in tune with his party: in April, he approved Mr. Biden’s call to ban future sales of assault weapons; in May, he approved the end of the filibuster.
Mr Lamb said in an interview that the assault on Capitol Hill was a turning point for him, especially in how Republican leaders accepted Mr Trump’s false accusation that the 2020 vote was rigged.
He alluded to it again in his announcement speech on Friday: “If they accept such a big lie and put it at the center of the party,” he said of GOP leaders, “you won’t. can’t expect them to tell the truth about anything else. . “