PITTSBURGH – Rep. Conor Lamb believes he knows what it takes for Democrats to win in Pennsylvania nationwide.
He looks at President Biden, whose narrow victory in the state – named four days after Election Day – got him over the top and into the White House.
“People will use the word moderate,” Lamb said Thursday at his home in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. “We are a swing state. I don’t think we’re ideologically too advanced either way. ”
On Friday, at a union hall on Hot Metal Street in Pittsburgh, Mr. Lamb announced his long-awaited entry into the 2022 Pennsylvania Senate race, vowing to “fight for every single vote in our state on every single square inch of ground” and presenting himself as a middle class enough to be elected nationwide.
The question is whether he’s liberal enough to win the Democratic primary.
A Navy veteran and former prosecutor, Mr. Lamb, 37, is likely the last major candidate to step into what is expected to be major competitive battles in both parties for the seat of Senator Pat Toomey, a retiring Republican.
It is the only vacant Republican-owned seat in a state that Mr Biden has held, and the Democrats see this as their best opportunity to expand their pinpoint control of the Senate, in which the 50-50 partisan split has Vice President Kamala Harris with the cast leaves decisive votes. A single extra seat would mean a simple Democratic majority in the Senate and at least shield the White House a little from the whims of individual senators who are now a huge influence, like moderates Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Mr Lamb became famous in 2018 when he won a special election to the House of Representatives in a district that Mr Trump had run in double digits. He won twice more in a redrawn but still politically mixed district, staking out independent positions, including voting against MP Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. But while he calls himself the strongest potential Democratic candidate precisely because of his two-sided, centrist approach, aspects of his record, including guns and marijuana, are not up to par 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 Pennsylvania campaign and does not work for a Senate candidate.
The progressives’ early favorite and alleged front runner for the Democratic nomination is Lt. Gov. Something of a folk hero on the national left, John Fetterman, with roughly 400,000 Twitter followers, who enjoy his posts in favor of “legal weed” and his frequent beatings on Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema for not “voting like Democrats”.
As the 14-year-old mayor of Braddock, a poor community outside of Pittsburgh, Mr. Fetterman tattooed the dates of the local murders on his arm. As lieutenant governor, he fought to pardon longtime prisoners of conscience.
Known for a casual work wardrobe of unlocked craftsman shirts and jeans or even shorts, and for his imposing presence – he’s six feet tall and has a shaved head – Mr. Fetterman, 51, hopes to appeal to some working-class white voters who float over to Support Mr Trump. He has outperformed the fundraising field, raising $ 6.5 million this year.
Still, Mr Fetterman’s challenge is the downside 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, an analyst for the bipartisan Cook Political Report.
In an incident in 2013 when he was Mayor of Braddock, Mr. Fetterman faced potential liability in the primary. After hearing what he thought were gunshots, Mr. Fetterman stopped a black jogger and held it at gunpoint until the police arrived. The man was found unarmed and was released. Bringing on the episode in February, Mr Fetterman said he made “split-second decisions” when he believed a nearby school might be at risk.
However, with police and vigilante violence against black men a high profile issue for Democratic voters, some party officials and strategists have expressed fears that if nominated, Mr Fetterman could lower black voter turnout. An outside group supporting the election of black candidates has already run a radio ad in Philadelphia attacking Mr. Fetterman over the incident.
“It’s definitely a problem,” said Christopher Borick, a political scientist and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “It hasn’t disappeared and keeps reappearing. It hoists red flags. “
In a statement, Mr Fetterman’s campaign stated that four months after the incident in Braddock, an 80 percent black town, he was “overwhelmingly re-elected” because voters “know John and know this had nothing ”. to do with race. ”It added that he“ ran and won across the country, and he is the only candidate running for this Senate seat to have done so ”.
If Democratic voters resist Mr. Fetterman and Mr. Lamb, a path could open up for alternative candidates, including Val Arkoosh, a district official in the electoral suburbs of Philadelphia and the only woman in the race, and Malcolm Kenyatta, a telegenic youngster State legislature from North Philadelphia.
Mr Kenyatta, who would be the state’s first black and first openly gay Senate candidate if he won the election, has traveled extensively seeking local support but lags behind his rivals in fundraising.
Ms. Arkoosh, a medical doctor and chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Montgomery County, the state’s third largest county, has endorsement of Emily’s list of Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Together, Mr. Fetterman, Mr. Lamb, and Mrs. Arkoosh outperformed their Republican counterparts for the quarter ended June.
While Democrats see a model in Mr Biden’s 81,000-vote win last year in the state that swept suburban swing voters horrified by Mr Trump, Republicans are currently playing and narrating almost entirely against grassroots Make America Great Again the fable of a stolen election 2020.
There is a proven road to statewide victories for Republicans in Pennsylvania that was embarked on last year by two GOP nominees who were elected treasurer and auditor. They did so by running before Mr Trump in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, where many higher educated voters had traditionally supported Republicans but were repulsed by the harassing, divisive former president.
Mr. Toomey, the outgoing Republican senator, recently warned: “Candidates must run on ideas and principles, not on loyalty to a man.”
But few of the Republicans fighting to succeed him seem to have listened.
Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger who lost a house race to Mr. Lamb last year, sued every 2.6 million Pennsylvania Mail-In votes, a case that was rejected by the US Supreme Court, and said he support an Arizona-style review of the 2020 Pennsylvania ballot papers. Donald Trump Jr. supported his Senate bid.
And Jeff Bartos, a Philadelphia area real estate developer and large party donor who was expected to appeal to voters in the suburbs, has similarly courted the Trump base and a “full forensic examination” of the Pennsylvania elections demanded, although several courts have denied lawsuits alleging fraud or administrative misconduct.
Neither Mr. Parnell nor Mr. Bartos raised as much cash last quarter as Dark Horse candidate Kathy Barnette, a former finance manager who lost a race in Congress on Philadelphia’s main line last year. Ms. Barnette has charged far-right cable channels Newsmax and OAN with election fraud.
A longtime Republican adviser to the state, Christopher Nicholas, said there are three lanes of travel available to GOP candidates: “Super MAGA-Trumpy, Trump-adjacent and not so much-Trump.”
Lately, he said, almost everyone has pushed themselves into the “super-MAGA-Trumpy” lane.
“As a Republican, you have to be careful how far to the right you go to win the primary so you don’t get irreparable harm in the general election,” said Nicholas.
Mr Lamb faces a similar challenge to a moderate in the Democratic primary.
He is sure to be hit hard by some previous positions, including his opposition to a ban on assault weapons in 2019 and his vote last year to permanently extend the Trump administration’s individual tax cuts.
More recently, Mr. Lamb has kept pace with his party: in April he supported Mr. Biden’s demand to ban the sale of future offensive weapons; in May he advocated the end of filibuster.
Mr Lamb said in an interview that the attack on the Capitol was a turning point for him, particularly in how Republican leaders came to accept Mr Trump’s false accusation that the 2020 vote had been rigged.
He alluded to this again in his announcement on Friday: “If you take such a big lie and put it at the center of the party,” he said of the GOP leaders, “you can’t expect them to talk about anything else Tell the truth”. . “