In 2022, my home state of Pennsylvania will be a political hotspot. Not that it’s necessarily different than normal. The state’s usual tossup status has made it of electoral importance for decades. But 2022 will be a special occasion. With Pat Toomey retiring and Tom Wolf termed out, there will be two highly contested-elections in the state. There are many potential candidates for both sides. Democrats in particular have a deep bench. The two names most thrown around have been Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Both have serious statewide potential, but much of the talk has been around Fetterman being a stronger candidate.
However, that’s not quite true. There is a reason John Fetterman is starting his campaign now. There is a reason you hear rumors of many more Democrats running for Senate than Governor. And ultimately, Shaprio has a much easier path to the Senate than Fetterman.
Shapiro’s Geographic Advantage
Josh Shapiro has an immediate geographical advantage compared to John Fetterman. Coming from Montgomery County from the eastern portion of the state, Shapiro is already in good standing with its large Democratic basin. Fetterman on the other hand, comes from Allegheny County. While Allegheny itself is a Democratic stronghold thanks to the city of Pittsburgh, the surrounding areas are bleeding Democratic voters. Why does this matter? It’s simple, and unique to Pennsylvania. On all state general elections and primaries, Pennsylvania puts the home county of all candidates on the ballot. This had led to many examples of geographic voting, especially in primaries on both sides.
Recent examples include the 2018 Republican Senate primary, where western State Representative Jim Christiana got 37% of the vote against easterner Lou Barletta. An even better example would be the 2020 Auditor General Democratic primary, where all six candidates won their home counties. What should be taken from these races is this though? In both these races, the major candidate from the western part of the state lost to the candidate from the eastern part of the state. While I can see this shifting for Republicans, I don’t see it changing for Democrats any time soon. The Democratic base in the state is continuing to shift to the east, giving candidates from that area of the state better connections to those voters. This gives Josh Shapiro a huge built-in advantage that John Fetterman doesn’t have.
Does Fetterman’s position as Lieutenant Governor help him?
John Fetterman’s current position is Lieutenant Governor. He is no longer just a mayor from a local Allegheny town, nor is he a little known state government official. He is Lieutenant Governor of one of the largest states in the country. Theoretically, that should help him gain statewide recognition that would beat out the geographical limits that he has. Let’s be honest with ourselves, though. How many of us can name our Lieutenant Governor, if your state even has one? I would guess not many of us, as generally the position’s only job is to preside over the State Senate.
Fetterman seems to clearly know this. He has frequently put himself in the national news quite a bit since the election. Fetterman has also already started fundraising for a planned Senate run. If he believed his position itself would allow him to win the Democratic primary, he wouldn’t be doing this. Fetterman has also never won a statewide election, which is a huge separator between him and Shapiro. Shapiro has won two hotly contested elections in presidential years, even showing some strength with ancestral Democrats in the northeast. His work as Attorney General has also brought him large recognition throughout the state. Shapiro has always been at the forefront of cases and has brought some respect back to the office after Kathleen Kane’s tenure. This activity provides Shapiro with another advantage over any potential opponents.
Pennsylvania has never elected a woman as Governor or to the United States Senate. In fact, Pennsylvania has only had five women as statewide elected officials in its history: Grace Sloan, Catherine Baker Knoll, Barbara Hafer, Kathleen Kane, and the recently-elected Stacy Garrity. Two other women (Linda Kelly and Robin Weissmann) have served as statewide officials, but they were appointed to those positions and never elected.
This has started to become an issue for some sects of Pennsylvania Democrats, especially as the bench has become flush with women. The “core four” of southeastern Pennsylvania Congresswomen have been all linked to this Senate race one way or another. The one that might be most likely to run is Chrissy Houlahan, who currently represents the 6th district, based mostly in Chester County. While Houlahan’s seat is safely Democratic in its current state, Pennsylvania losing a seat in redistricting. This might make the seat less safe than before. Most hypothetical maps have Houlahan taking in more of Berks County, which is getting increasingly redder outside of the city of Reading. Her entrance into the race would likely see immediate backing from groups like EMILYS List. Houlahan, or any other of the Representatives from this area of the state, would cause major issues for Fetterman.
John Fetterman’s final issue might be the one that could harm him the most. Connor Lamb is another current Pennsylvania representative whose seat could get redder in redistricting. While Lamb is an astute political talent who could hold a redder seat even in a potentially nasty midterm, rumors have flourished that he could run for the Senate himself. The fact that this rumor even exists and that it is only for the Senate seat shows that Fetterman is not a field clearer.
Lamb would cut into Fetterman’s western Pennsylvania base, and he would have the ability to raise huge stacks of money as well. That alone could end Fetterman’s chances. Lamb has also been rumored to be working with Shapiro in some way if he does not run for re-election. Whether that’s as his Lieutenant Governor or his replacement as AG is still up in the air. But that he’s working with Shapiro in the first place also shows Shapiro’s strength currently. He is not someone that even someone as strong as Connor Lamb would want to challenge – and that bodes poorly for Fetterman’s chances.