Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman says he is taking “a serious look” at another run for the U.S. Senate in 2022, an ambition he plans to share with supporters on Friday.
“The 2022 cycle in Pennsylvania is going to be one of the most, if not the most, important races,” Fetterman told The Inquirer in a brief interview Thursday.
Pennsylvania’s open-seat Senate race is already considered one of the most competitive in the country and will help determine which party controls the chamber after the midterm elections. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican, announced in October that he won’t seek a third term or run for governor in 2022.
A stampede of candidates in both parties are expected to run. Fetterman, who lost a 2016 Democratic Senate primary, would bring a nationally known political brand and a social-media-savvy approach to governing and campaigning. His public profile has been elevated considerably over the last couple months as he emerged as a prominent defender of Pennsylvania’s election results, with frequent appearances on national TV.
“You already know exactly where I stand,” Fetterman plans to tell supporters in an email Friday. “I haven’t had to ‘evolve’ on key issues, because I’ve always said what I believe is true and have been saying the same things for 20 years.”
The race will draw national interest as a referendum on President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, with the Senate majority in the balance. The chamber will soon be evenly split with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans following Democratic wins in Georgia, giving Democrats an effective majority — with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast tie-breaking votes.
A candidate will likely need to raise at least tens of millions of dollars to win. The most expensive Senate races in 2020 neared or topped $200 million in total spending each, according to the website OpenSecrets.
Fetterman was in the national spotlight this week following a dispute during the opening session of the state Senate as Republicans who control the chamber refused to seat a Democrat who narrowly won reelection because his challenger is fighting the results in federal court.
Fetterman loudly protested, prompting Republicans to remove the lieutenant governor as the chamber’s presiding officer.
He has made regular appearances on national cable news and radio networks criticizing President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania’s election and the national rollout of vaccines to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
He repeatedly mocked on Twitter and on television a promise Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, made two days after the November election to pay up to $1 million for evidence of voter fraud.
Fetterman offered up three Trump supporters from Pennsylvania accused of attempting to vote for dead relatives and demanded that Patrick, whom he kept calling “my dude,” pay the state $3 million.
His announcement will head off what might have been a volatile Democratic gubernatorial primary against state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, who just won a second term, is widely seen as the front-runner for his party’s 2022 nomination for governor.
Several Republicans and Democrats are jockeying for position in both races.
Among the Republicans seen as possible candidates for statewide office are U.S. Reps. Dan Meuser, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson, and Lloyd Smucker, former U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, former gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango, State Sens. Camera Bartolotta and Doug Mastriano, U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, and Jeff Bartos, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Among the Democrats: U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle and Conor Lamb, State Sen. Sharif Street, Montgomery County Commission Chair Valerie Arkoosh, and state Treasurer Joe Torsella, who just lost a bid for a second term.
Fetterman’s ascent in statewide politics has been remarkable for its speed. Five years ago, he was the mayor of Braddock, an economically blighted former steel mill borough home to 2,100 residents, eight miles down-river from Pittsburgh. He started drawing attention from national media outlets in that post.
At 6-foot-8, with several tattoos on each arm and a penchant for wearing work shirts and pants rather than suits, his approach to politics as been atypical in the state
His first Senate campaign helped build a loyal base of supporters from around the country, despite a loss in the Democratic primary to Katie McGinty, who went on to lose to Toomey.
Fetterman returned to the fray in 2017 with an unconventional approach, aiming to knock then-Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III off the Democratic ticket as Gov. Tom Wolf ran for a second term in 2018. Wolf, no fan of Stack’s, stayed neutral in that undercard bout but was widely perceived as leaning Fetterman’s way.
He easily won a five-way primary — Stack finished fourth — and won the general election with Wolf. In Harrisburg, they quickly adopted roles as a political odd couple, with the professorial Wolf helping the gargantuan Fetterman shop for a suit and tie since his duties would involve presiding over the Senate — which has a dress code.
Fetterman used his new post, often an afterthought in state government, to pursue a progressive policy agenda. He staged a statewide listening tour to discuss the legalization of marijuana and then declared his support for it, citing the potential economic benefits to the state and the impact it could have in criminal justice reform.
He also used his post as chairperson of the state’s Board of Pardons to push for expanded use of clemency in criminal cases, a position that put him at loggerheads with Shapiro, the state’s top law enforcement officer, who also sits on the board.
Shapiro is seen as having Wolf’s backing if he runs for governor as expected.