Editorial: The hoodie candidate05/24/2022 10:39AM ● By Richard Gaw
As this editorial is being written, celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick remain locked in a virtual tie as vote counting entered its fourth day in the race to determine which Republican will campaign to become Pennsylvania’s next representative in the U.S. Senate.
With thousands of ballots left to tally, Oz led McCormick by 1,092 votes, or 0.08 percentage points out of 1,338,399 ballots counted as of this past Friday. The race has remained close enough to trigger Pennsylvania’s automatic recount law, with the separation between the candidates inside the law’s 0.5 percent margin, and has triggered the need for both campaigns to call for a cavalry of volunteers and lawyers to swarm the commonwealth in an effort to win a run-off election that may not be known until June 8.
This editorial, however, is not about Dr. Mehmet Oz or David McCormick, just as it is not about hedge fund facilitators or celebrities or those who live in the rarified air of the one percent. Rather, this editorial is about a candidate who in some respects falls under the categorization of Democrat in Name Only on the premise that he defies categorization of any kind. This is an editorial about a candidate on a statewide search to knock on the doors of those who live on the periphery and in the small homes and under the crevices and cracks of those for whom the American Dream has become a worthless reach for the invisible.
This is an editorial about the most unlikely of candidates, one who would never be considered by Central Casting to assume such a lofty aspiration as state senator, but who has defied the mountainous odds to become the mayor of a Pennsylvania town, and then lieutenant governor and perhaps the next senator from the State of Pennsylvania.
When a Chester County Press reporter first met John Fetterman at the Kennett Brewing Company several years ago, the then mayor of Braddock seemed ill at ease that a journalist was even there. He wasn’t there to speak to the press, but to hear from some Kennett Square stakeholders about how the town revitalized and redefined itself. He wore a black t-shirt, black pants, black shoes and his six-foot-eight frame swallowed up the tavern chair he sat in.
Fetterman spoke very little. He did not enjoy one of the brewery’s signature beers. A glass of water in front of him was left completely filled and never touched. He sat silent and listened, and in his eyes, there was a clear and focused attention given to those he had come across the state to listen to.
He was a Harvard graduate who looked like a member-in-good standing of a weekend chopper coalition but owned the quiet intensity of a shaman.
Last Tuesday, the voters of Pennsylvania gave clear evidence that John Fetterman may be the candidate who will most listen to them, from Erie to Lancaster, from Scranton to Mechanicsville and from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to West Grove, Oxford and Kennett Square. His unconventional path to Washington, D.C. has included a populist message that has taken him to blue counties and red counties around the commonwealth, where he has spoken to everyone from progressives to the most ardent Trump supporters.
He has been idiosyncratic, simple, indefatigable; on Election Night, he was in a Lancaster hospital being fitted for a pacemaker after a mild stroke.
After his sound defeat of challenger Conor Lamb in the May 17 Democratic Primary (a whopping 58.8 percent of the vote to Lamb’s 26.3 percent), Fetterman’s campaign war chest surged, even though he continues to oppose COVID-19 mask mandates, and recently broke with the Biden administration’s stance on immigration, publicly stating that he favors Trump-era policies to remain in place.
Who Fetterman faces in the November election remains in stalemate for now, but in an election year that heavily favors a Republican landslide in the House and Senate, his opponents are not turning away.
“John Fetterman is far more formidable than people give him credit for,” said Sean Parnell, the formerly Trump-backed GOP candidate for the Pennsylvania Senate seat who abandoned his campaign in November and endorsed McCormick. “He says exactly what he believes all the time and it doesn’t matter if it pisses his base off at all. But I think his base respects him for saying it.”
John Fetterman has spent the past several months traveling from rally to rally with his face partially obscured behind the cloth wrap of hoodies. It has been his personal aesthetic for some time, but of late, it has also become a part of his message, perhaps because he knows that the future of the people of Pennsylvania is not about him, but about those he may be elected to serve.