HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania’s larger-than-life lieutenant governor, the 6-foot-8, bald and tattooed John Fetterman, will run for U.S. Senate, making the announcement Monday after kicking off an exploratory fundraising campaign last month that raised over $1 million.
It will be the second bid for U.S. Senate by the plainspoken 51-year-old Democrat. He may ultimately see competition from a member of Congress for his party's nomination — U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, Chrissy Houlahan and Conor Lamb have all said they are considering running or will take a look at it — in what could become the nation's most competitive Senate race in 2022.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a number of names are circulating, including former Trump administration figures. Another possibility is Jeff Bartos, a suburban Philadelphia real estate investor who started running for U.S. Senate before switching horses to become Fetterman's opponent for lieutenant governor in 2018.
The Senate seat in the presidential battleground is being left open after two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey announced in October that he would not run again.
Fetterman is by far the highest-profile name in Pennsylvania politics to show interest in running. He got his start in elective office in 2006 as the mayor of impoverished Braddock, a tiny steel town just outside of Pittsburgh where three-fourths of the residents are Black.
It was there that the Harvard-educated Fetterman became something of a street fighter for progressive values, as well as a minor media star for his work.
“What I bring is a 20-year record of consistency in embracing the same core issues that the Democratic Party has come to embrace,” Fetterman said in a recent interview.
In 2010, he was arrested for refusing to leave the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s corporate headquarters in protest over the closing of a hospital in Braddock, a cause that raised broader issues about inequality and the lack of access to health care.
Later, he performed same-sex marriage ceremonies in his home before a federal judge’s ruling made it legal in Pennsylvania.
Including his loss in the Democratic primary in 2016's Senate race, he is a veteran of two statewide campaigns, is an ever-present guest on cable news shows and has a huge social media following.
On TV and on Twitter, he has taken on Trump with gusto, aggressively attacking falsehoods about voter fraud peddled by Trump and Republicans after the November election.
Fetterman turns questions about how he himself would fit into the U.S. Senate — he is an adherent to wearing shorts in winter and short-sleeve work shirts whenever possible — into a contrast with lawmakers whose claims of a stolen election helped incite a pro-Trump mob to storm the U.S. Capitol in a deadly attack.
“Here’s what I promise to never to do: I promise to never incite a riot on Capitol Hill, I promise to never stand up on the floor of the Senate after I’ve been driven from it by a bunch of rioters and lie about our election in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Considering that kind of disgrace to the Senate, his style “should be the last of our concerns," Fetterman said.
Besides the party's bedrock issues, Fetterman is a fervent advocate for legalizing marijuana, criticizing the war on “a plant” as pointless, counterproductive and disproportionately inflicting criminal records onto Black people.
As lieutenant governor, Fetterman pushed the state pardons board — which he chairs by virtue of the state's second-in-command job — to become a vehicle to right some of the wrongs of decades of excessive sentencing, particularly of minorities.
He also took the issue of legalizing marijuana on the road, holding a public hearing in every county.
Bartos may be next in declaring his candidacy.
In an interview, Bartos said he is seriously considering a run. In the next couple of weeks, he will be calling community, business and party leaders to discuss his possible candidacy, opening a campaign bank account and starting to fundraise, he said. He expects to make a final decision in March.
Bartos, 48, has longtime connections to GOP campaign donors and political elite through his work fundraising for candidates.
He served briefly as the state party's finance chair and, unlike some of his potential rivals for the GOP nomination, he can make a substantial campaign donation to himself.
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