Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has been gifted a head start in his uphill campaign for Senate in Pennsylvania, as the counting of votes in the Republican primary persists and threatens to leave the GOP without a nominee until mid-June.
Fetterman remains off the campaign trail recovering from a stroke suffered just before Tuesday’s primary. But the lieutenant governor boasted of raising $1.6 million in the 24 hours after being crowned the Democratic Senate nominee while Republicans David McCormick and Dr. Mehmet Oz, ignoring Fetterman, battled each other over who would emerge with the GOP nod once all votes are counted. Oz led McCormick by 0.07 percentage points early Friday.
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With an automatic recount likely, internecine warfare between McCormick and Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, could stretch across weeks, providing Fetterman additional time to build momentum as he attempts to overcome political headwinds that could sweep Democrats from power in Congress in the midterm elections.
“The continued schism between the [Republican] candidates is only going to benefit the Democrats and their candidate, Fetterman,” said Jeffrey Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in northeastern Pennsylvania. “The longer this drags on, the less time the eventual winner will have to pivot to the general election and, more importantly, the less likely the party will truly unify under the winner.”
Except Fetterman is not going to get a free pass to define himself, or either of the two Republicans poised to advance to the November ballot.
While McCormick and Oz bicker over vote-counting, the National Republican Senatorial Committee intends to fill the gap. The NRSC is planning a tailored messaging campaign to bruise Fetterman, with the committee’s independent expenditure arm likely to invest significantly in early advertising to bolster the eventual GOP nominee. “That was always the plan, even before the tight primary/coming recount,” NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline told the Washington Examiner.
“The ads write themselves,” Hartline added. “John Fetterman has been on the far left of almost every issue. We’ll make sure Pennsylvania voters know it.” Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which has reserved $24.6 million for the Pennsylvania campaign, is holding its fire for the fall, as originally planned.
Fetterman’s other problem is the difficult political environment that is poised to sink Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
President Joe Biden’s job approval rating is cratering. The RealClearPolitics average pegs it at 41%. Perhaps more ominous for the lieutenant governor and his fellow Democrats, the Republicans enjoy a 45.5% to 43.4% lead on the generic ballot. In a swing state like Pennsylvania that has grown more Republican since former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, outrunning those numbers is a tall order. Some Democratic insiders in the state are conceding as much.
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“He’s not catching a break at all,” said T.J. Rooney, a former Pennsylvania Democratic Party chairman. “Whomever ultimately wins the primary should win in November. Nothing will matter until the 16% right track/75% wrong track numbers change.” Rooney said infighting on the Republican side might have helped Fetterman had third-place finisher Kathy Barnette won the GOP Senate nomination.
The Fetterman campaign did not respond to an email requesting comment.