John Fetterman, Malcolm Kenyatta and the Liberal start of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate race in 2022


The two Pennsylvania Democrats in the high-stakes Senate of the state race to support a federal minimum wage of $ 15 and get rid of the filibuster to make it happen. Both want student loan cancellation and support some aspects of radical environmental legislation comparable to the Green New Deal. One is a long-time advocate for the legalization of marijuana, the other a vocal champion for LGBTQ rights.

And the two regularly issue sarcastic criticisms of Republicans on MSNBC.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary in 2022 is starting fairly gradually.

That two progressive candidates Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Rep. of State Malcolm Kenyatta – are the first of the competition reflects how the left ascendant has become the energizing force in Democratic politics, even with relatively moderate President Joe Biden in the White House. The race for replacement retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey will help determine which party controls the Senate after the midterm elections.

But it’s still Pennsylvania an oscillating state Biden won only narrowly and or Democrats have failed on almost every other front. The primary field will surely grow in the coming months as more moderate candidates launch campaigns. For now, Kenyatta and Fetterman need to set themselves apart and define the brand of progressivism they think they can earn statewide.

And as is often the case in intra-party contests, the differences may ultimately turn out to be more style than substance.

“In a Democratic primary… most people will be on the same page,” said Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant who is not aligned with any of the candidates. “So voters are probably going to have to decide on their personality who they think has the best chance of winning in the state.”

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Some of the earliest political and political differences are already fueling activists and allies of the candidates. This includes hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the technique of drilling to extract natural gas. Fetterman opposed fracking during his Senate race in 2016, but given the new regulations since then, he no longer supports a ban. Kenyatta supports a moratorium on new wells.

“I don’t support an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing tomorrow just because science and the realistic demands of our energy needs cannot evolve that quickly,” Fetterman said in an interview last week.

Some liberal critics of Biden question Kenyatta’s decision to back him at the start of the presidential primary. Fetterman remained neutral in the 2020 primary after supporting Bernie Sanders in 2016.

“I don’t think anyone is focused on the contentiousness of an election we won that took Trump out of the White House,” Kenyatta said in an interview. “I am incredibly proud that I did everything in my power to ensure that Trump is a single term president.”

Even though they push progressive platforms, both stop before some of the major progressive litmus tests – which could pay off if either becomes the Democratic candidate in a tightly divided state.

“You win Pennsylvania by being the most practical,” Rashed said.

When it comes to health care, Kenyatta said he was more inclined to support interim bipartisan measures than to wait for a comprehensive plan like Medicare for All.

“I’m going to be pushing for us to go in that direction, but at the end of the day let’s be clear there is a lot… about the costs and the prescription drugs, the surprise billing that we can do right now,” he said. -he declares. “Sometimes we get bogged down in things that don’t reflect the reality that people find themselves in right now.”

Fetterman said the goal should be health care relief for Americans, regardless of what form it takes.

“If Medicare for All needed my vote to pass in the US Senate, I would,” Fetterman said. “But if a public option that would create access for everyone needed my vote, I would.”

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Both see the progressive movement as part of a larger coalition that they need to win. They framed their campaigns around workers – black, white, rural and urban. Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock, near Pittsburgh, entered the race with the support of several unions in the state.

“I consider myself coherent in what I believe and know to be true, ”Fetterman said. “I can tell you exactly what I was doing 26 years ago… these kinds of core values ​​have been a straight line for the past 26 years. So is it progressive? I don’t know, what was progressive in 1995? What is progressive in 2021? But it was consistent.

Kenyatta, who launched his campaign with the support of the Working Families Liberal Party and the American Federation of Teachers, held an event last week with local officials in Mount Pocono, a sign of how he will try to expand his support beyond his home port of Philadelphia.

“I really don’t care what people call me,” said Kenyatta, originally from north Philadelphia and serving his second term in Harrisburg. “I got involved because it was about my survival and the survival of the people I love. What people call progressive now, I call survival.

And while the two men occupy a similar space on the ideological spectrum, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be fighting for the same voters.

“It’s almost like our little version of Bernie Sanders vs. Elizabeth Warren,” said Larry Ceisler, Philadelphia public affairs consultant. “Fetterman is Bernie and Malcolm is Elizabeth Warren. … The second choice of Malcolm Kenyatta’s voter might not be John Fetterman, and vice versa.

That hasn’t stopped supporters and opponents from weighing the candidates’ progressive good faith – or their shortcomings.

“I don’t believe being pro-fracking is progressive,” said State Representative Summer Lee, who represents Fetterman’s hometown of Braddock. “We will have candidates who are below and above in different categories. “

Lee said she hopes the field widens to better reflect the party. “We have to fight the urge as a progressive movement to allow all eggs to be put in those one or two baskets,” she said. “Especially when none of these baskets are women or are women of color.”

Fetterman is also almost certain to face continuing questions about a 2013 incident in which he chased a man and shot him a shotgun because he believed the man, who turned out to be an unarmed black jogger, had been involved in a shooting. Fetterman reiterated last week that he did not know the race of the man and was responding as the mayor of a city facing a gun violence crisis.

“Dealing with gun violence as a Braddock law enforcement official was a responsibility that I took on and whether someone put it in a progressive box or not, that’s the role I got into. am found, ”he said.

“LEARN MORE: The Divided States of Pennsylvania: How One State Embodies American Political Discord

Most progressive state leaders take their time evaluating candidates, especially with many more should run. Other Democrats widely seen as possible candidates include U.S. Representative Chrissy Houlahan from Chester County, U.S. Representative Conor Lamb from Allegheny County, State Senator Sharif Street from Philadelphia, and Montgomery County Commissioner Val. Arkoosh. (More moderate potential candidates like Houlahan and Lamb may be in less of a rush to launch campaigns as they may already be raising money through their existing campaigns which could then be used in a Senate race).

“I want to know more about their current position,” said State Representative Elizabeth Fiedler (D., Philadelphia).

State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, a Democrat from West Philadelphia, said candidates should focus on tackling the city’s homicide epidemic, which he says is out of the question. the “progressive” political conversation.

“If you are really progressive, how do you fail to include this in your agenda? Williams said.

Philadelphia City Council member Jamie Gauthier said the lived experience matters too. That’s why she leans towards Kenyatta, the only openly gay black lawmaker in Harrisburg. “Identity is not everything, but I am drawn to the support of a young black gay man for this position,” she said.

Pennsylvania has never elected a black senator or an openly gay senator.

“Anytime a black homosexual from North Philadelphia comes up in the ranks doing Malcolm’s job, people have to be careful,” said Kendra Brooks, Philadelphia City Council member of the Working Families Party. “They’re not just viable candidates, they are generating the kind of popular enthusiasm we need to win in areas and with communities that Democrats have increasingly performed less well with.”


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