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Philly Democrats back Conor Lamb for Senate — over the front-runner and the hometown candidate

A new endorsement solidified Lamb’s status as the establishment-favored candidate in Pennsylvania’s largest city, as he wages an uphill fight in the May 17 primary.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.) earlier this month in Elkins Park.
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.) earlier this month in Elkins Park.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia’s Democratic Party brass came off the sidelines and endorsed U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb in his Senate campaign.

The vote by most of the city’s ward leaders Tuesday night solidified Lamb’s status as the establishment-favored candidate in Pennsylvania’s largest city, as he wages an uphill fight in the May 17 primary.

“We had a voice vote and you could hear it, it was overwhelming,” Bob Brady, the former congressman who leads the Democratic City Committee, said of Lamb’s support. The endorsement was made in a voice vote rather than a roll call.

“He’s racking up a lot of endorsements, a lot of labor support,” Brady said. “So he’s got a lot of bragging rights right now.”

Lamb is from the Pittsburgh suburbs, but with the endorsement, his name will now be on many of the sample ballots that Philadelphia Democrats distribute outside polling stations around the city. Brady called Lamb the best candidate to win in November. And he said he likes the idea of a nominee from Western Pennsylvania, since Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running for governor, is from the Philadelphia suburbs.

While Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leads the Democratic primary field in polls and fund-raising, Lamb has built a statewide coalition of party supporters, leaning into the insider track. Philadelphia’s building trades unions and Mayor Jim Kenney endorsed him in January.

Lamb fell short of the state party’s endorsement after campaigning hard for one.

“I’m proud to be endorsed by the Philadelphia Democrats,” Lamb said in a statement. “In countless conversations, they told me that Philadelphia is counting on us to win this race and break the gridlock on issues like gun violence, housing and schools.”

» READ MORE: Conor Lamb’s challenge: Build his name. Take down Fetterman. And do it all with less money.

Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street and his son, State Sen. Sharif Street, also endorsed Lamb on Tuesday. Sharif Street had previously considered running for Senate himself.

“Conor Lamb has built a big coalition all over Pennsylvania, and I’m glad to join it,” Sharif Street said in a statement. “He’s a fighter who knows what it takes to win against Republicans in November — he’s actually done it before.”

Taken together, the endorsements are a notable snub of the hometown candidate, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who had also tried to court party insiders but has struggled to raise money. It’s also a somewhat expected snub. Sharif Street, who is vice chair of the state Democratic Party and from North Philadelphia like Kenyatta, had bristled at Kenyatta’s Senate campaign.

The city party has often passed over Philadelphia candidates in endorsing for statewide races, including in 2020, when it backed Lamb’s uncle in his bid for auditor general.

“The only endorsement that truly counts is the one from voters on Election Day,” Kenyatta said in a statement. “We know that every election that wards go their own way and we’re excited to know that many wards and committee people will be a part of our big coalition in May. I have never been the candidate of the establishment— and that is not the path to winning this election.”

» READ MORE: Conor Lamb and John Fetterman are running like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders

Kenyatta built some momentum early in the city with the backing of the big labor union SEIU and a coalition of progressive, younger City Council members. Brady spoke highly of Kenyatta but said his meager fund-raising and low standing in polls made many ward leaders skeptical of his prospects.

“Malcolm did a good job but people didn’t think Malcolm could win,” Brady said. “That’s the only problem with him. He’s well-received, we just didn’t think the numbers were there. The money wasn’t there.”

Brady also said Kenyatta’s decision to run for Senate while also seeking reelection to his state House seat turned off some party activists.

Lamb, Kenyatta, and Fetterman all submitted signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot, along with Philadelphia doctor Kevin Baumlin and Alex Khalil, a Jenkintown organizer and small business owner.