Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania John Fetterman's recent stroke didn't seem to deter most voters in Tuesday's primary, easily clinching a victory while the Republican race remains too close to call.
Fetterman was sidelined on the campaign trail last Friday due to what appears to be a minor stroke and then kept away from his own primary election party Tuesday night for surgery to install a pacemaker.
Those 11th hour health scares didn't stop the former mayor of Braddock from securing a victory against three Democratic challengers just an hour after the polls closed at 8 Tuesday night.
As of Thursday morning, Fetterman had about 720,140 votes, more than doubling his nearest challenger U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb's 321,321 votes. State Rep. Malcom Kenyatta took 123,638 votes while Jenkintown council member Alexandria Khalil got just 51,911.
“The fact that so many of you entrusted me with your vote means the world to me, and it’s something I’ll never take for granted. I’m feeling better every day, and I’m going to be back on the campaign trail to thank you all in person soon,” Fetterman said in a statement released late Tuesday night.
PA — THANK YOU FOR CHOOSING ME AS YOUR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR U.S. SENATE IN PENNSYLVANIA!!!!!!!! 😭😭
I’m *so* deeply honored. pic.twitter.com/6sa7bC5Vrw
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) May 18, 2022
"Control of the Senate is going to come down to Pennsylvania, and we have to flip this seat. We have a hard fight ahead of us ― but Pennsylvania is worth fighting for," Fetterman added.
Fetterman's victory and the Democratic primary results in general were a far cry from the potential GOP contenders.
On Thursday morning, the Republican race was still too close to call, with Mehmet Oz leading Dave McCormick by a fluctuating 1,200 votes.
McCormick trails Oz by a razor thin margin of just 1,245 votes, a gap the campaign official said they expect to close as more in-person, mail-in and absentee ballots are counted in over 60 precincts across the state.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oz had about 31.23% of the GOP ballots, or 417,446 votes, to McCormick's 31.14%, or 416,201 ballots.
A Department of State official confirmed that as of 10 a.m. Thursday there were about 51,000 mail-in and absentee ballots yet to be counted, about 34,000 of those belonging to Democrats and 17,000 to Republicans.
Philadelphia had 30,000 ballots out; Delaware County had 4,800; Lancaster had about 3,800 ballots; Greene County had 1,777 ballots and Tioga County had 1,298.
Pennsylvania election laws automatically trigger a recount if the margin between two candidates makes up 0.5% of the total votes in a race. The margin between the two GOP frontrunners would represent about 0.09% of the 1.33 million Republican ballots reported on the state's election returns website Thursday.
Whether it's a matter of days or weeks until a clear Republican challenger emerges, Fetterman has already laid the groundwork for talking points against either of the presumptive winners.
Fetterman has often taken jabs across the aisle at McCormick and Oz as out-of-touch out-of-towners that couldn't represent Pennsylvanians the same way he could.
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McCormick grew up in Pennsylvania, but lived in Connecticut for 15 years until moving to Allegheny County in late 2021.
Oz attended medical school in Pennsylvania, but hadn't lived in the commonwealth until earlier last year.
While Lamb and Kenyatta repeatedly questioned whether Fetterman was too far to the left to attract moderate Republicans and independent voters, it might be the political climate outside of Pennsylvania that threatens a victory for Fetterman in November.
The stroke factor ― or nonfactor
Though Fetterman’s recent stroke might have cost him some votes in the primary, it seems unlikely at this point it will play much of a role in November.
Fetterman announced the stroke Sunday from inside a Lancaster General Hospital room in a video message posted on Twitter, where he and his wife, Gisele, nonchalantly explained that he was expected to make a full recovery.
As long as the 52-year-old doesn’t have a recurring issue in the months ahead, this might be the last voters will hear much on the subject, according to veteran political analyst Terry Madonna.
Madonna said that Fetterman’s ability to raise more funding than any other candidate in the Senate race, over $16 million, and his “unique personality” makes him a serious concern for Republican leaders.
Often dressed in baggy shorts and T-shirts with tattoos visible, Madonna described the progressive Fetterman as a candidate who can likely win over moderate Republicans and independent voters in the fall. “I’ve been doing this for a long time … can you tell me another politician with the style, the personality, the character of a John Fetterman?”
Fetterman spent much of his campaign visiting many of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, regardless of how deeply red the voter base was.
He had done a similar listening tour as lieutenant governor, asking Pennsylvanians about their thoughts on legalizing recreational marijuana in the state.
That kind of outreach might help him garner undecided voters from across the political party spectrum in Pennsylvania's electorate, though another hot button topic could prevent winning over some single-issue voters.
The possible overturning of Roe v. Wade will likely continue pushing reproductive rights to the forefront of political debates months from now.
Democratic voters are largely united in support of codifying a right to abortion access as a federal law, and about 84% of all voters in recent polls have said they are against making abortions illegal outright.
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Fetterman has promised to codify reproductive health as a right through law and to end the filibuster in the Senate, an increasingly common complaint among Democrats in Congress for deadlocking a number of bills championed by President Joe Biden’s administration.
Fetterman also has history as an elected official in Pennsylvania, something Madonna noted neither of the potential Republicans have. Madonna added that often in past elections both candidates will have some kind of political history in Pennsylvania, marking another "unusual" feature among many complexities in the current political field.
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The biggest challenge for Fetterman, and really all Democrats running for statewide offices, is “The Midterm Curse,” according to Madonna.
“In midterm elections since the end of WWII, the party that’s held the presidency has lost seats in Congress,” Madonna said.
In other words, the lower the current president’s approval rating, the worse that president’s party seems to do in the next election.
With inflation, the war between Russia and Ukraine and Biden’s current approval rating on RealClearPolitics averaging at 41%, Madonna said the national political climate might do more damage to Fetterman’s chances than Oz or McCormick alone.
"You can’t separate the national environment from these elections," Madonna added.
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: PA Senate race for John Fetterman could be impacted by Joe Biden