1. Vote for the Largest Primate
Look, I first started preaching to you about Fetterman in November. This guy is selling something rare. His blowout victory over Conor Lamb looks inevitable now, but it’s important to remember that Conor Lambs is a quality candidate.
Lamb was not a tomato can. He’s a good candidate who was perfectly aligned with Pennsylvania Democrats. He’s got a great story. And Fetterman more than doubled him up: 59 - 27.
Now here’s the deal: I am not convinced that Fetterman is a lock to win in November.
If he faces Mehmet Oz, then he’s got a very good chance. Certainly better than 50-50. If Dave McCormick is the nominee, it’s a much tougher race. Call it 40-60 odds. In a neutral environment, Fetterman schlongs either of them. But November ain’t going to be neutral. We’ll be deep into recession territory and Biden’s approval numbers are still going to be underwater.
So let’s start with the bull case for Fetterman and then we’ll talk about what can go wrong for him.
First off, how are R’s going to attack the guy? They’re going to say that he’s soft on crime.
It will be hard to tie Fetterman to Biden and national Democrats, because he’s an outsider. And it will be hard to pin national economic problems on him since this is a state race.
The other obvious line of attack will be that Fetterman is a “socialist.” But that’s going to be hard to sell, too. Fetterman is a pro-union guy in favor of fracking. He’s stayed away from Green New Deal type stuff. And having a millionaire carpetbagger making the “socialist” argument risks highlighting to voters how much the Republican candidate is not like them.
Which leaves crime as Fetterman’s big vulnerability. He wants to legalize pot and in his capacity on the state pardon board he tried to get as many people out of prison as he could. The Philadelphia Inquirer said that he “ran the Board of Pardons like an activist.”
You will see this in ads. A lot.
And this characterization is not something that Fetterman is going to run away from. If anything, he plans to lean into it. Here he is:
Our Board of Pardons has a rich history of providing Second Chances to people. But in the 1980s the number of commutations for life sentences plummeted and, in 1997, the application process was tightened and a unanimous decision requirement was introduced in order to provide a second chance to deserving people serving a life sentence.
We can’t let ourselves stop believing in Second Chances for everyone. That’s why my role on the Board of Pardons is so important to me.
I’m proud that, in my first year as Lieutenant Governor, we recommended commutation for 19 people serving life without parole sentences and sent them to the Governor’s desk to sign — the most since the early 90s. In total, the Board has recommended 36 commutations of life without parole sentences during my time as Lieutenant Governor. . . .
We’ve provided pardons for those sentenced under Pennsylvania’s outdated weed laws, which let a doctor growing medicine for his sick wife go to jail because of a plant. And we’ve provided clemency for people unjustly sentenced to die in prison, such as Lee and Dennis Horton. Lee and Dennis became respected mentors and leaders in their prison communities — they’re shining examples of what Second Chances can look like, and I’m proud to know them and have them on my team.
Providing Second Chances does not mean letting people get away with crimes. Those provided clemency are proven to lead by example since their incarceration, and each and every one provides both a thorough application and personal testimony to the entire Board.
What providing Second Chances *does* mean is reimagining the purpose of our Criminal Justice system. For the majority of my life, our nation’s approach to crime and Criminal Justice has meant focusing on punishment, not rehabilitation. In our fight against violent crime, we cast such a wide net that we ruined the lives of countless people with punishments that did not fit their crime.
This all sounds very nice in Fetterman’s framing. You can bet it’s going to weaponized against him.
Since this is the bull-case for Fetterman, I’ll tell you that I don’t think soft-on-crime is going to work as an attack. For starters, that’s because his biggest problem is that he once picked up a gun and detained a black guy he thought was fleeing a crime. This was a bad mistake! It is absolutely something that could potentially hurt Fetterman with turn-out from African-American voters.
But also—and I struggle to say this politely—do you think this incident will hurt him with rural Republican voters? I do not. And as a psychological matter, it undercuts the idea that Fetterman is soft on crime.
Also: In order for attacks on a pol as “soft on crime” to land, the guy has to look soft.
Fetterman looks like a prison warden.
The biggest part of the bull-case for Fetterman is that he is an excellent fit for Pennsylvania voters. He’s born-and-raised in Pennsylvania. His issue matrix is in the sweet-spot. Culturally he’s blue-collar all the way. He eats at Sheetz, owns a gun, has tatts, and walks around in shorts and a hoodie.
And neither Oz nor McCormick are good fits for the state. Both are carpet baggers. Both are the products of elite institutions. Both are super rich. To the extent that they will run rings around Fetterman on the debate stage, that will only highlight the fact that he is a normal dude and they are polished commodities on the make.
Fetterman is authentic and authenticity is the most valuable commodity in politics right now.
2. The Bear Case
So how could Fetterman lose?