Briefing

What's next for John Fetterman?

The incoming Pennsylvania senator seems poised for political stardom — what will he do with his national platform?

Democrat John Fetterman pulled off one of the most significant victories of Tuesday's midterm elections, fending off Republican challenger Dr. Mehmet Oz to become Pennsylvania's next senator. While his triumph could go a long way toward deciding the balance of power in the Senate, Fetterman's tenure is also likely to make waves within the Keystone State itself. Pundits are divided, though, as to what his senatorship could actually mean. Here's everything you need to know: 

Will Fetterman's victory rally the Democrats within his state? 

While many experts were predicting a red wave of Republican victories, Pennsylvania went the other way, electing not only Fetterman, but also Democrat Josh Shapiro as governor. Fetterman will likely use the momentum from Tuesday's wins to try and rally Pennsylvania Democrats, and some evidence seems to point to that happening already. 

Fetterman's success flipped the open seat blue for the first time since 1962, and he will take the spot currently occupied by retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R). However, the whole state itself has been trending Democratic in recent years, and became a critical state in cementing President Biden's 2020 victory. However, support for Fetterman on Tuesday was unexpectedly high, and the senator-elect outperformed even Biden en route to his win. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported results from the deep-red Westmoreland County, where Fetterman garnered 39 percent of the vote compared to Biden's 35 percent in 2020. In the often swinging Erie County, Fetterman was tracking around 53 percent, the Inquirer reported, while Biden had won just under 50 percent. Even in Lackawanna County — which notably contains the president's birthplace, Scranton — Fetterman carried 57 percent of the vote compared to Biden's 54 percent. 

Fetterman had largely run on a campaign of rallying Democratic support in rural red areas of Pennsylvania, and particularly said he plans to engage with working-class voters across the state. Based on Tuesday's returns, it appears the soon-to-be senator may have a head start in doing so. 

Will Fetterman remain a figure on the national stage? 

It can't be denied that Fetterman has become a significant player on the national stage in the past year, and Pennsylvanians were already familiar with him given that he has been the state's lieutenant governor since 2019. However, with the Senate comes a new set of challenges — how likely is it that Fetterman remains a rising star for the Democratic Party? 

Based on reporting in The New Yorkerit seems to be a pretty sure bet. 

Just hours after the race was called, the magazine noted the unexpected enthusiasm throughout the state that helped catapult Fetterman to victory in the closely-watched contest. "I'm in the middle of insanity," Patrick Jordan, a friend of Fetterman's, told The New Yorker. "The Fettermans are the real deal. There's no bulls--t there."

Fetterman has also become close with both President Biden and former President Barack Obama, having campaigned with both of them in the leadup to the midterms. The president called a number of Democratic victors late Tuesday night, though it is unclear if Fetterman was among those phoned. Given the apparent passion for Fetterman among the Democrats, though, it would not be surprising if he continues to helm a national platform for the blue side. 

"When I lived in Pittsburgh circa early 2000s, #Fetterman was a great local political story," King's College professor Paul Glader tweeted this past May. "I hung out with him at a backyard bbq and liked his ethos then. It makes sense he's heading to the national stage now."

What will Sen. Fetterman actually mean for Pennsylvania? 

High hopes for his political stardom among Democrats aside, step one for Fetterman will be to implement his campaign promises throughout his state. Along with his counterpart, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D), Fetterman will look toward the liberal agenda that he outlined throughout the midterm season. 

According to his campaign website, Fetterman's goals include strengthening in-state manufacturing to fight inflation, cutting taxes for working people, and making healthcare more affordable by cutting out-of-pocket expenses from pharmaceutical and insurance companies. He has also called for a ban on congressional stock trading, and has lambasted major oil companies for gouging consumers while the price of gas remains high. 

The issue that remains atop the minds of Pennsylvanians — as well as much of the country — is inflation, most polls say, with prices continuing to rise. However, despite Fetterman's inflation-fighting platform, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that no single senator could likely have a significant impact on the state's economy. 

"In terms of things that would lower prices on store shelves, it's pretty tough to act that quickly," Josh Bivens, research director of the liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute, told the Inquirer. 

This sentiment was echoed by Alex Arnon, the associate director of policy analysis at the Penn Wharton Budget Model, who told the Inquirer, "Other than maybe very targeted tax increases, which I think there's very little appetite for, there's not a lot that Congress can do at this point." 

In terms of fighting corporate greed, Fetterman wrote in an op-ed for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader in August that he would "[prosecute] the executives of these huge corporations, including the big oil companies and meatpacking companies who are artificially driving up prices, gouging consumers at the pump and at the grocery store." 

However, he is likely to face opposition for that stance, particularly from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce. A spokesperson for the group said in a statement that Fetterman's plan was "a very adversarial position to take on an industry that supports thousands of good-paying jobs across the commonwealth." While the Pennsylvania chamber doesn't offer endorsements in federal races, the Inquirer noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had backed Oz. 

Despite the specific solutions offered up by Fetterman, only time will tell if he is able to implement a platform that will truly be able to accomplish his goals. He'll get his chance when he takes office as senator this January. 

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