Election 2022

Bernie Sanders-Backed John Fetterman Prevails in Pennsylvania

Voters told exit pollsters they had little confidence in the ability of either Fetterman or Oz to represent Pennsylvania.


Well, somebody had to win.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a Democrat, held on despite a late surge from television doctor Mehmet Oz, Republican, in the hotly contested Pennsylvania Senate race. Fetterman, a firebrand progressive who had been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), overcame concerns about his health after suffering a stroke in May, and a shaky debate performance, to prevail after an intensely negative campaign.

As of 1 a.m. on Wednesday, when NBC News and Fox News called the race, Fetterman had about 49.4 percent of the vote and Oz had 48.2 percent. The gap between the two candidates was slightly more than 60,000 votes—while Libertarian candidate Erik Gerhardt collected just over 66,000 votes.

The race wasn't focused heavily on policy issues, but Fetterman's win does shift the makeup of the next Senate in key ways. Keep in mind, this is the seat currently occupied by Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), a consistent conservative who never fell under the thrall of Trumpism. Not only will it become a Democratic seat, but Fetterman is unlikely to be a centrist in the mold of his neighbor to the southwest, Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.).

Fetterman's narrow win was an apt microcosm of the biggest races in the midterms, in which a supposed "red wave" failed to materialize. Oz's chances may have been dragged down by the poor performance of Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano (a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump) who lost by double-digits on Tuesday night.

Even as they voted Tuesday, many Pennsylvanians seemed unsure whether either candidate was capable of doing the job. An exit poll from NBC News showed that 56 percent of voters believed Oz had not lived in the state long enough to accurately represent Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the same exit poll reported that 49 percent of voters believed Fetterman was not healthy enough to be an effective senator.

Compared to Oz, Fetterman looks like a career politician. But his record as a one-term lieutenant governor and the longtime mayor of Braddock, a small town in western Pennsylvania's coal country, offer few clues about how he will vote as a senator.

One noteworthy thing for libertarians: As Gov. Tom Wolf's second-in-command between since 2019, Fetterman worked to streamline the state's clemency system and Board of Pardons to give a second chance to some individuals serving life sentences. Oz tried to turn that against him amid a modest rise in crime, but the attacks—including calling Fetterman "the most pro-murderer candidate in America"—were apparently insufficient.

But Fetterman's views on other issues are harder to suss out. He flip-flopped in a cringe-worthy manner during the Senate debate on a question about fracking and energy policy. Since suffering a stroke in May, Fetterman has held few campaign events and given only limited interviews.

In the end, that was good enough—even though exit polls suggest plenty of voters have major concerns about Fetterman's health going forward.

This was never a race about ideas or the future of the country, but someone had to win. Fetterman did, barely.