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Fetterman's win in Pennsylvania critical to Dems' fight for the Senate

While Oz used Fetterman’s recovery to question his fitness for office, Fetterman was able to maintain the trust of voters.
Image: John Fetterman
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman's journey to the Senate has been a roller coaster ride.Matt Rourke / AP file

Things were looking dicey for a bit, but John Fetterman has pulled off a win for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat over Mehmet Oz, NBC News projects. The lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania’s victory in the battleground state is a critical part of the Democrats’ bid to fight off a GOP takeover of the Senate.

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Fetterman’s journey to the Senate was a roller coaster ride. In the Democratic primaries, his history of campaigning for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and supporting single-payer health care won the ire of the private health insurance sector. After he won, leftists took interest in Fetterman as an attractive model for populist messaging while radiating everyman vibes, exemplified by Fetterman’s hoodies, tattoos and casual conversational style as a campaigner.

But Fetterman’s campaign came to be defined less by his policy platform than his clash with Oz, who, as a polished celebrity doctor, was a striking political foil. Fetterman constantly attacked Oz for having moved to Pennsylvania shortly before he ran for the Senate, struggling to remember the name of well-known local grocery stores, owning too many houses and calling veggie trays “crudités.”

Another defining issue was Fetterman’s recovery from a major stroke he suffered in May. The stroke drastically reduced his ability to campaign and interfered with his ability to speak, and auditory processing issues meant he had to use closed captioning to take questions at a debate with Oz. While Oz used Fetterman’s recovery to question his fitness for office, Fetterman was able to maintain the trust of voters.

Fetterman campaigned as an unabashed progressive on issues like legalizing marijuana, reforming criminal justice, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, prosecuting price-gouging executives and protecting LGBTQ rights. Yet he also sought to distance himself from the progressive label in the run-up to the general election and flip-flopped on fracking, which raises questions about how far left he’ll lean in office.