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Joe Manchin’s filibuster drama is shaping an early debate in Pennsylvania’s 2022 Senate race

It’s the latest sign that Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidates are running on a largely progressive platform in a state Joe Biden won by about 1% of the vote.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) walks up the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) walks up the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday.Read moreSusan Walsh / AP

The Facebook ad apologizes for interrupting your scrolling but assures that “this is important news”: Sen. Joe Manchin won’t support reforming the filibuster, and won’t back Democrats’ big election reform legislation.

“If we don’t get one more Democrat in the Senate, Joe Biden’s entire agenda for his presidency could be blocked,” the fund-raising solicitation for Democrat John Fetterman’s U.S. Senate campaign warns.

Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, has said for months that it’s time to ax the Senate rule that effectively requires 60 votes to pass most legislation. But his efforts to raise money by tapping into liberal angst over the latest Manchin-fueled controversy in Washington shows how Pennsylvania Democratic Senate hopefuls are happy to make the filibuster a key issue in a race that will help determine control of the chamber after next year’s elections.

And it stands in contrast to the approach taken by Democrats in other swing states, some of whom have tiptoed around the debate and been content to let Manchin, the conservative West Virginia Democrat, take the heat from the party’s progressive base.

» READ MORE: Welcome to Pennsylvania’s very progressive 2022 Democratic Senate primary

It’s also the latest sign that Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate candidates are running on a largely progressive platform in a state Biden won by about 1% of the vote.

Republicans agree that the filibuster debate presents a clear choice for voters.

“If John Fetterman got his way, Democrats would be able to pass their radical, half-baked agenda like the Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court with radical justices, creating new states, taking away our Second Amendment rights, and granting mass amnesty to criminal illegal immigrants,” GOP Senate candidate Sean Parnell, an Army veteran who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Western Pennsylvania last year, said in a statement Wednesday.

In addition to Fetterman, the two other major declared Democratic candidates in the race — State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia and Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh — have also said they would vote to eliminate the filibuster. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb of Allegheny County, who’s also said to be considering a Senate bid, joined those calls after Republicans defeated a proposal for an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

“Good morning to everybody except the folks still caping for the Jim Crow filibuster,” Kenyatta said Wednesday on Twitter. It was a reference to the point made by former President Barack Obama and others that senators used the procedural maneuver to block legislation advancing the rights of Black people in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Kenyatta and other Democrats say that history is increasingly relevant today as Republican-led state legislatures across the country move to enact new laws tightening voting rules following former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election.

» READ MORE: Democratic Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan won’t run for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania

Congressional Democrats have faced pressure from activists to counteract those laws with federal legislation. In March, House Democrats passed a sweeping bill — first introduced in 2019 — aimed at expanding ballot access and reducing the influence of money in politics.

The Senate was set to take up the bill later this month. But last weekend, Manchin wrote an opinion article announcing he would not vote for it, describing the legislation as too partisan. And he reiterated that he would not “weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”

That meant Democrats didn’t even have a simple majority in favor of the bill, which Republicans had vowed to block. Democrats have an effective majority in the 50-50 Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tie-breaking votes.

Manchin’s defection enraged progressives and voting-rights activists who wanted to put Republicans on record opposing the legislation and use the episode to rally the public around reforming, if not eliminating, the filibuster.

As the majority party, Democrats could change the Senate rules without any GOP support.

Fetterman piled on, running the Facebook ads and writing an opinion article for CNN with the headline “On Transformative Legislation Joe Manchin Should Step Up.