Election 2022

Fetterman pulls off a win in tight Senate race, besting Oz in rebuke of post-stroke naysayers

The Democrat lieutenant governor outperformed Biden’s showing in several Pa. counties.

Senator-elect John Fetterman speaks to supporters at his victory party on election night

Senator-elect John Fetterman speaks to supporters at his victory party on election night

Tom MacDonald / WHYY
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Democrat John Fetterman will be the new junior senator from the commonwealth, after squeaking out a win in a tight election against Republican candidate Mehmet Oz.

After months of watching his advantage in the polls narrow — to the point that Oz was polling just ahead of him in the last pre-election surveys — Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s current lieutenant governor, appears to have garnered enough support to win outright in a race many thought might necessitate a recount, or at least a prolonged count of all mail and provisional ballots.

The Associated Press called the race at 1:51 a.m., with the Democrat showing 49.9% of the vote to the Republican’s 47.7%.

“It’s official,” Fetterman tweeted just before 1 a.m., after NBC was the first to call him victor. “I will be the next U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.”

“We bet on the people of Pennsylvania — and you didn’t let us down. And I won’t let you down. Thank you,” he said.

The Reading-born, York-raised politician first burst onto the scene as the mayor of Braddock, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He held the position from 2006 to when he won the Lieutenant Governor’s seat in 2018, and was sworn into office in 2019.

His statewide profile rose considerably through his support of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s upstart 2016 presidential campaign — which helped set him apart in his 2016 run for U.S. Senate — and for Sanders’s reciprocal support two years later.

The association, along with Fetterman’s views on marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform cemented him as a populist progressive — the same role he took up in the Democratic primary, where he dominated the vote.

Just days before that election in May, he suffered a stroke that changed the course of his general election campaign. After a less active start due to needed recovery time, coverage of his campaign often doubled as coverage of his health — the focus led to frequent squabbles large and small over the proper way for his opponent and the media to communicate his condition.

Ramesh Chandra, Fetterman’s doctor, has repeatedly assured that the senator-elect can serve in office, most recently through an October 15 letter. “He has no work restrictions and can work full duty in public office,” the letter closed.

In the end, it appears that Fetterman had a strong showing in the state’s urban strongholds, and did well enough in suburbs and rural areas to beat a seemingly surging Oz.

In the wee hours of election night, Fetterman was on pace to outperform President Biden’s 2020 results in various parts of the state that lean conservative and liberal, including:

  • Adams County
  • Allegheny County
  • Armstrong County
  • Bedford County
  • Bradford County
  • Butler County
  • Carbon County
  • Centre County
  • Columbia County
  • Cumberland County
  • Franklin County
  • Indiana County

The general election campaign was one of the most watched in the nation, due to the tight race for control over the Senate. Presidents Biden, Trump, and Obama, all toured the state over the weekend to stump for their party’s nominee, along with many other national politicians.

Outgoing Senator Pat Toomey is a Republican, making the Keystone state the site of “Democrats’ best opportunity” to pick up a Senate seat, per CNN — which also noted that the Fetterman/Oz race was the most expensive Senate race this cycle, as “nearly $160 million” went into ad spending by both parties.

In a year where Democratic Senate incumbents like Georgia’s Raphael Warnock are still facing close races, Fetterman’s win could prove critical to the party holding control of the chamber. This could block Republican bills from reaching Biden’s desk (where they would likely be promptly vetoed), and allow the president to continue appointing judges to federal courts.

In the end, it appears that Fetterman had a strong showing in the state’s urban strongholds, and did well enough in suburbs and rural areas to beat a seemingly surging Oz.

 

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