AP NEWS

Fetterman Stirring Democratic Interest In Wyoming County

October 9, 2018
1 of 2

Fetterman Stirring Democratic Interest In Wyoming County

TUNKHANNOCK — John Fetterman stood in front of a large American flag hanging from the wood-paneled walls of a Moose Lodge and cracked a joke about the crowd of more than 100 people gathered for the Wyoming County Democratic Party’s annual get-out-the-vote breakfast.

“Have you guys ever felt here in Wyoming County like you’re the center of the political universe?” he asked and then waited for the laughter to die down. “It sounds like I’m a stand-up comedian, right? But look around. This room is jam-packed with people. It’s not supposed to be that way. You’re just another rural county in Pennsylvania. It’s all about Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with our party. But that’s not the way with our campaign.”

Fetterman, who became Gov. Wolf’s running mate after defeating Lt. Gov. Mike Stack III in the May 15 primary election, is on the trail with what, in many election years, would be the heaviest of lifts — kindling Democratic voter enthusiasm in counties controlled by the Republican Party.

But in stops across Pennsylvania last week, Fetterman encountered something unusual: Crowded events and an activated party base eager to hear him.

It might help that Fetterman, 49, is an unconventional candidate in an unusual time.

The mayor of Braddock, a struggling steel town in Allegheny County, Fetterman drapes his 6-foot-8 inch frame with Dickie’s short-sleeve work shirts that show his forearm tattoos.

Fetterman played offensive tackle for Albright College in Reading, later attending Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. An AmeriCorps job took him to Braddock, where he stayed to start a nonprofit providing social services with seed money from his father, who runs an insurance agency in York.

Fetterman rose to prominence with an unsuccessful 2016 primary bid for the U.S. Senate that played well with progressives. Many expect him to take another shot in 2022 at challenging U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Lehigh County.

Along the way, Fetterman became a national lefty icon and celebrity, along with his borough of 2,100 residents on the Monongahela River. Levis made a television commercial about the town. The late celebrity television chef Anthony Bourdain came calling. The Washington Post sung the “ballad of Big John Fetterman.”

In Wyoming County, Fetterman told the crowd he gets embarrassed when voters in rural areas thank him for showing up, as if they’re “an afterthought” in the state’s politics.

“The key to a blue Pennsylvania is counties exactly like Wyoming,” he tells them. “And we will never ignore you.”

Laura Dickson, the county’s Democratic chairwoman, said her party was already mobilized by President Trump and his administration. And Fetterman’s “dynamic” presence helped boost attendance at the event to a 10-year record, she added.

“It’s about time we had someone who looked like him, acted like him and did what he does,” Dickson said of Fetterman.

Tom Henry, one of a handful of Republicans in the crowd, was paying close attention. The chairman of the Wyoming County Commissioners, Henry said Democratic energy exceeds Republican interest in the area and Trump’s constant presence in the news “definitely has a pull on what’s going on.”

Republican voters outnumber Democrats nearly two to one in Wyoming County. Trump took 67 percent of the vote here in 2016.

Still, Henry said he was drawn to Fetterman’s “audacity.” Enough to vote for him?

“We’re not going to go that far,” Henry said, but then added, “You know what? Maybe. I don’t know. But I like him.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly