One candidate is unabashedly blunt, willing to embrace progressive views, does little to build rapport with party leaders, and dominates rooms with a 6-foot-8-inch frame. The other has a more moderate image, is an intentional public speaker who became a congressional assistant after college and has carefully cultivated relations within the party ever since.
Both in style and content, John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro store dramatically different profiles.
Yet their fate — and that of the Democratic Party — is woven into a few Pennsylvania elections, which will be among the most closely monitored in the US.
Fetterman offers Democrats their clearest path to securing a U.S. Senate seat, which could go a long way toward helping the party maintain control of the chamber.
Shapiro, meanwhile, poses even bigger existential questions when confronted by a Republican rival for governor who has embraced conspiracies over the last presidential election and would have significant influence on leading the next in the main battlefield state.
“The stakes have never been higher, the contrast has never been so clear,” Shapiro told the state’s Democratic Party committee members at their Saturday meeting in Gettysburg. “This commonwealth has the power to decide whether we have the 51st senator. This commonwealth has the power to decide whether the great experiment that began 245 years ago in the city of Philadelphia continues.”
With the stakes so high, Fetterman and Shapiro are building a united front in the run-up to the fall elections.
They participate in a coordinated campaign funded and led by state and state party organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Governors Association, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Together, these groups could send more money to Pennsylvania than anywhere else to register and persuade voters as part of what the state party calls “the largest and earliest mid-term coordinated campaign in Pennsylvania history.”
Such help from national organizations can be much needed in a large track record.
After supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, Pennsylvania waved to Joe Biden in 2020 — but only by about 1 percentage point. And Democrats preparing for the 2022 campaign already face huge challenges.
Fetterman suffered a stroke just days before he won his party’s nomination for the Senate race last month and has not yet returned to the campaign trail, or has given much indication of when he will. And both candidates will find themselves in a difficult environment for Democrats, weighed down by Biden’s unpopularity and rising prices for everyday goods, food and gasoline.
Assistants from both campaigns say coordination has already begun.
Fetterman and Shapiro’s campaigns say they’ve been in frequent contact, and Shapiro said he’s been texting Fetterman since Fetterman’s stroke.
Campaigners say they expect the men to show up together at larger events, such as rallies, regional campaign office openings or party events to raise money, increase turnout or highlight candidates with a down ticket.
Earlier this month, Fetterman’s wife, Giselle, filled in for him at an event with Shapiro where they spoke at the opening of a coordinated campaign office in Pittsburgh.
“I’m looking forward to getting John here, and I know he’s just nibbling to get out,” Shapiro said Friday. Fetterman’s campaign said in a statement that “we look forward” to campaigning with Shapiro and helping other Democrats in the fall vote.
For now, Fetterman’s health hangs over the campaign, as he questions whether he’s been honest about the seriousness of his condition.
Fetterman’s neurologists and cardiologist did not answer questions from reporters, and the campaign lasted three weeks after the stroke to announce that he also had a serious heart condition.
The Republican campaign is coordinating the Republican National Committee, but the party’s top candidates — celebrity heart surgeon turned Senate nominee Mehmet Oz and governor candidate Doug Mastriano — have so far made no firm commitments to campaign together.
In a statement, Oz’s campaign said he “supports the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania because he believes we should message Joe Biden about inflation, gas prices and the out-of-control crime problem” and “looks forward to (Mastriano) this summer on the road.”
The campaigns didn’t say whether Oz and Mastriano even met, other than exchanging text messages after their respective primary wins. Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to questions.
Mastriano is viewed with suspicion by party leaders and campaign strategists. He has spread Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and was a leading Pennsylvania supporter of Trump’s drive to undo the result. He was also in the crowd outside the US Capitol during the January 6, 2021 attack by Trump supporters after attending the “Stop the Steal” rally nearby.
If they’re campaigning together, it can be awkward: Mastriano, a state senator, backed a rival to Oz in the primaries and criticized Oz on the campaign trail, suggesting at one point that Oz really is a liberal and a carpet-bagger — a nod to Oz moving from his old home in New Jersey to go running in Pennsylvania.
In addition, before being elected to the state senate in 2019, Mastriano repeatedly posted Islamophobic material on Facebook. Oz is Muslim.
In a statement, the RNC said it has been “on the ground” in Pennsylvania since 2016, training and mobilizing activists, registering voters, opening offices and working with the state party and its nominees.
For now, Republicans are trying to portray Fetterman and Shapiro as extreme, but also zoom in on Fetterman’s blow in a digital ad, suggesting he hasn’t been honest about its effects.
“Did John Fetterman Tell the Truth About His Health?” says one narrator in the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s digital ad.
Democrats insist they’re not worried about Fetterman recovering from the stroke, and Colleen Guiney, the Delaware County party chairman, said it will only be talked about as a distraction from important issues, such as Republican efforts to boost the county’s democracy. and render the Senate dysfunctional by the filibuster.
Fetterman has avoided media interviews as party leaders — including Biden — are trying to reassure ordinary Democrats that Fetterman is well and can resume the campaign soon.
“I know he can’t wait to get back on the road,” Biden said during remarks at last week’s AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia. “He looks good.”
Fetterman and his wife gave a 90-second video speech played Saturday at the state party’s committee meeting in Gettysburg. In it, Fetterman highlighted the Shapiro-Fetterman ticket to take on “the extreme, bizarre and dangerous ticket of Oz-Mastiano.”
“I’m so proud to be part of the ticket here,” Fetterman said. “And this year we have Josh Shapiro as our next governor. And let me just let you know that we will be back very soon, to be back 100% to be back in each of our 67 counties, because Josh and I have always committed us to a full campaign of every 67 provinces.”
Shapiro and Fetterman have a political relationship dating back to at least 2016, when Fetterman organized a fundraiser for Shapiro at his home in Braddock.
Still, Shapiro and Fetterman have had a tense relationship at times over conflicting stances on state pardons — and a report by The Philadelphia Inquirer just days before the primaries underlined that.
Citing unnamed individuals as the source, the Inquirer reported that a few years ago Fetterman had threatened to run for governor against Shapiro — unless Shapiro voted for certain applicants on the clemency committee.
Shapiro did, but has denied that politics determined his votes or that such a conversation with Fetterman ever took place, and a spokesman for the attorney general’s office called the claim “downright outrageous.” Fetterman has been silent about it.
Democrats say it’s not up for debate among activists, rather focusing on what’s at stake in the November 8 election.
That election is about choosing between candidates “who work for an effective government that will serve all our communities,” Guiney said, and candidates who align with “people who are willing to sacrifice the fundamental fabric of our democracy for their personal gain.” .”
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at twitter.com/timelywriter
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