PITTSBURGH — John Fetterman, the liberal lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania who won his state’s Democratic Senate nomination on Tuesday, appeared to be heading into what promises to be one of the nation’s most closely watched general elections this fall. Then a stroke upset his plans.
Mr Fetterman, the 6ft 8in hoodie-wearing former mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, was not a favorite of the party establishment, but he electrified some progressive voters and a wider slice of the Democratic electorate who embraced his outspoken, accessible style and hailed his promises to fight aggressively for party priorities in Washington.
“I’m just doing my thing,” he said in an interview last week. “I’m just a guy who shows up and just talks about what I believe in, you know?”
After canceling campaign events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Mr Fetterman, 52, announced he had a stroke, was recovering and had no cognitive damage.
He was still in hospital on Tuesday when his campaign announced he would undergo “a standard procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator”, adding: “It should be a short procedure that will help protect his heart and treat the underlying cause. of his stroke.
It was unclear when he might resume campaigning.
The health scare had ramifications far beyond Pennsylvania. The Democrats only hold a majority in the Senate thanks to the decisive vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. The party’s vulnerability had already been highlighted when Senator Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico suffered a stroke in January.
It also seemed shocking given Mr. Fetterman’s vigorous public image; he was often dressed as if he had just left the gymnasium.
“He may not look like a Senate candidate for New York or California, but he’s doing great for Pennsylvania,” said Ed Rendell, a former Democratic governor of the state. “He is a very credible candidate for the working class.”
Mr Fetterman, a Harvard Kennedy School graduate, served as mayor of Braddock for 13 years, where he drew attention to his efforts to revitalize a struggling steel town – and a 2013 episode in which he brandished a shotgun. to arrest an unarmed black jogger, telling police he heard gunshots.
He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2016, but won a cheering following and went on to beat an incumbent to win his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor in 2018. In that role, he maintained an active presence in the state, boosting name recognition that played. an important role in his primary victory.
“He spent a lot of time in communities across the state,” said Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who took no side in the primary. “It’s something he was able to build on.”
Mr. Fetterman has also made a name for himself in national progressive circles, receive approval of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in 2018 after supporting Mr. Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary bid. And he gained new prominence with a wider range of voters as a fixture on cable TV in Pennsylvania’s 2020 vote count.
Several months later, he entered the Senate primary, the first major Democratic candidate to enter the race, and cemented an overwhelming fundraising advantage over his closest rivals.
Mr. Fetterman has campaigned on issues including raising the minimum wage, promoting criminal justice reform, and supporting voting rights, abortion rights, and protections for LGBTQ people.
But he drew just as much attention for his style, and some saw him as good at connecting with blue-collar voters. He favored basketball shorts and sweatshirts over button-ups and khakis and spent much time campaigning in rural, working-class counties that had voted overwhelmingly for former President Donald J. Trump. , hoping to improve Democratic margins in those areas.
Mr. Fetterman has repeatedly described himself as a progressive in the past, but in the race for the Senate he has not sought the leftist mantle. He rejected a suggestion last week that he would join the “Squad”, a group of left-leaning members of Congress, if he won.
Republicans and some Democrats, however, believe he could be vulnerable to criticism that he is too left-leaning for one of the most divided states in the country, and especially for its more centrist suburbs, which have been vital for recent Democrats. earnings in the state.
“It’s good that Fetterman is going to those areas where Democrats have done poorly in those Republican counties, but I think his biggest challenge will be those suburban communities,” said former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania who said they voted for President Biden.
Mr Dent warned that Mr Fetterman is seen by some as a “Bernie Sanders Democrat”.
The Lieutenant Governor lives in Braddock with his three children and his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, the second lady of Pennsylvania, who kissed the acronym “SLOP” and who, like Mr. Fetterman, has an active social media presence.
She insisted he be checked out after feeling unwell on Friday, the Fettermans said.
His campaign said on Monday that Mr Fetterman had been “re-evaluated by the neurologist who again reiterated that John would make a full recovery”.