Geez, Conor Lamb v. John Fetterman In Pennsylvania's Gonna Get Nasty, Isn’t It?

Yes, we’re wading once again into the treacherous waters of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary. Politico reports that the super duper PAC behind Rep. Conor Lamb has warned potential donors that the congressman's trailing Lt. Gov. John Fetterman by 30 points. Lamb is really gonna have to press the flesh, air-kiss some babies, and remind voters what he stands for if he wants to turn this race around ... or he could just go scorched-earth on a fellow Democrat.

PREVIOUSLY: Lamb, Fetterman, And Kenyatta Walk Into A Bar. It Is Full Of Commenters Bitching About 2016.

“[P]rimary voters don’t yet see Fetterman as the liberal he is,” reads a memo circulated by the pro-Lamb group Penn Progress, which was obtained by POLITICO. “For Conor Lamb to have a path in the primary, this dynamic needs to change.”

The memo’s argument is built on the flawed premise that Fetterman hides his actual liberalism, which isn’t true. He’s publicly come out in support of nuking the filibuster. He’s proposed raising the minimum wage, calling it a “hill I would die on.” Forbes, hardly a fringe publication, reported last September about Fetterman’s support for legalizing marijuana and how he believed it would create new jobs and business opportunities, in addition to billions in tax revenue. He got into a public fight with the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania legislature last year about hanging pro-weed and LGBTQ rights flags outside his office. This was also widely reported.

Fetterman is running an unabashedly progressive campaign. The conventional Third Way wisdom is that this is a doomed strategy in Pennsylvania. Yet, Fetterman is curb stomping Lamb, who’s running as a conventional moderate. It seems as if the only way Lamb’s people can rationalize this apparent discrepancy is to assume no one realizes that Fetterman’s a liberal. The curiously named Penn Progress wants to spend more of Lamb supporters’ money to help broadcast Fetterman’s message, which he’s already freely sharing on MSNBC.

PREVIOUSLY: Badass John Fetterman Wants To Be Next PA Senator, How You Like That?

After a fundraising call, Penn Progress distributed a nine-page PowerPoint slide suggesting ways the Lamb campaign could attack Fetterman. The deck probably included words like “synergy,” “pivot,” and “low-hanging fruit."

The document highlights the testing of aggressive negative messaging against Fetterman, who is Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, including that he is a “dangerous radical who proudly calls himself a socialist,” “supports far-left policies like a $34 trillion-dollar government takeover of healthcare,” and has “spoken at Defund the Police rallies and wants to release convicted felons back onto our streets.”

"Fetterman is actually a dangerous radical” seems like a weird pitch considering he’s currently the state’s lieutenant governor. You could argue that Fetterman benefitted from appearing on the same ticket as Governor Tom Wolf, but Fetterman also beat incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in the Democratic primary. You’d think Stack might’ve tried the red-baiting on Fetterman if he thought that would’ve helped.

It makes sense that moderates wouldn’t want to elect “far left” candidates, but Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren aren’t the reason Joe Biden’s domestic agenda stalled in the Senate. Most Democrats, regardless of ideology, rightly blame Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Fetterman has positioned himself as a reliable team player for Biden, tweeting at one point “Put me in, coach. I promise to be that 51st vote. Every time.” He’s more liberal on certain issues than Biden, but he’s not claiming that he’ll “push back” against his party’s agenda.

Fetterman doesn’t support defunding the police, of course, but he’s written that “discretion and deescalation are a police officer’s strongest tools.” I hope he does support releasing convicted felons who’ve served their sentences.

What’s interesting is that Penn Progress wants to hammer Fetterman with racially coded “anti-police/soft on crime” appeals, while ignoring the 2013 incident where Fetterman pulled a gun on a Black jogger. The nine-page slide didn’t even bothering testing what I consider an obvious liability. Maybe they assume this would only raise his profile among certain rural white voters. It’s an actual issue of poor judgment, but we also live in a country where Kyle Rittenhouse wanders free.

In response to the Politico article, Fetterman spokesperson Joe Calvello threw shade on the Lamb campaign.

Conor hasn’t been able to gain ground with Democrats, so he’s decided to run like a Republican and use Fox News talking points to attack a fellow Democrat. This is a desperate move from a campaign that hasn’t been able to raise the money on its own, and hasn’t broken through with anyone except for some political insiders.

Lamb’s campaign manager Abby Nassif-Murphy clapped back that “this material did not come from our campaign” (just a Super PAC that funds the campaign). And yet!

But the fact that John Fetterman thinks only Fox News Republicans oppose socialism, defunding the police, and banning all private health insurance shows how out of touch he is with reality and why the Republicans are dying to run against him in the fall.

It’s unclear that Republicans are eager to run against Fetterman considering that a Dr. Oz might be their nominee. Fetterman is also proving a fundraising juggernaut. He’s even raised a significant amount of money through so-called “snail mail,” which strategists claim demonstrates an intensity of support because supporters have to find an envelope, stamp, and a check book (I’m not sure I have any of those in my house).

Lamb, Fetterman, and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta had their first debate Sunday and mostly agreed on everything, so maybe we can get through this primary without Democrats crying “socialism, defund, death panels” like, yes, a common Fox News host.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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