Democrats throwing mud in primary may hurt efforts in the fall

Pin It

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

For a number of weeks, I’ve been wanting to write a column about the dysfunction in the Democratic race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania — but every time I’d be poised to do so, the Republicans in either or both the gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race would do something so out there it could not be ignored.

But the fact of the matter is while the GOP is off in nutso land, Pennsylvania’s Democrats are up to some of their bad old tricks in trying very hard to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I’m sure Conor Lamb is a nice person on some level. But his candidacy for U.S. Senate has never made much sense to me — giving up a winnable U.S. House seat just for the more likely than not chance to lose a U.S. Senate primary seems like a poor choice. 

For a short time, it appeared this might be a rerun of 2016: the Democratic elites line up behind the weaker candidate and muscle them through the primary, only to see them get shredded in the general election. That was Katie McGinty, who the elites favored over former Congressman Joe Sestak. While Sestak might well have given Pat Toomey a real race, McGinty’s campaign was poorly run, met with little enthusiasm and she lost.

Here in 2022, many of the party elites — including the wildly corrupt Philly Building Trades folks — lined up behind Lamb in his race against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta.

The situation is different in 2022, though. Fetterman started early, raised a giant pile of money and worked very hard to raise his name ID — lots of cable TV news appearances really helped. So, it’s not shocking that Fetterman has a healthy lead in the polls. And it appears at least some of the party elites seem to get that Lamb’s campaign is probably doomed.

I like Kenyatta a great deal, to be honest — but question whether a candidate can make the jump from State Representative to U.S. Senate. I also suspect there are parts of the Democratic electorate in Pennsylvania that may not be ready to support a black, gay man. That’s a shame — but a political reality. Kenyatta has a very bright future ahead of him, but I don’t think he’ll have much of an impact at the ballot this cycle.

Which leaves the race between Lamb and Fetterman. 

Fetterman has legitimate issues, the largest of which is the incident when he was Mayor of Braddock and allegedly pulled a shotgun on a black jogger. Even from watching TV reports about the incident at the time, what actually happened and why remains unclear to a lot of voters – including me. His failure to appear at a Lehigh Valley debate was an unforced error — although he did manage to participate in a debate this week, where Lamb and Kenyatta focused much of their attacks on him as the frontrunner.

Fetterman needs to have better answers on a number of issues, without question.

But instead of pushing for answers, Lamb’s campaign has pulled out the “socialist” card in describing a fellow Democrat — Lamb trotted out the term last year on Twitter and magically, a SuperPAC supporting Lamb started running ads suggesting that — which ultimately got banned from Channel 6.

If you aren’t a Democrat in the southeast of PA, maybe this doesn’t have the same meaning. 

But for folks here, Democrats have had to live with being called “socialist” for decades by Republicans. To have a Democrat do it, rubs a lot of people in this area the wrong way. And since “here” is where Democratic primary votes are, it’s a giant tactical error for a candidate with low voter ID. Worse, if Fetterman wins the primary — the most likely outcome — the Republicans will be able to use it as weapon: “even Fetterman’s fellow Democrats say he is a socialist….”

It’s bad politics and bad for the party at large in a year when it is going to be tough enough for Democrats to make the case in the fall.

But the vitriol from some of Lamb’s followers on social media — many from out of state – can’t be helping with ordinary rank and file Democratic voters in places like Chester County. Keep in mind, folks in PA are kind pissed that carpetbaggers like Mehmet Oz (New Jersey) and Dave McCormick (Connecticut) parachuted in to spend their wealth to try to buy a U.S. Senate seat.

I made the mistake of asking why people out of state care so much this week on Twitter. I know, many folks consider posting at all on Twitter a mistake, but I enjoy the back and forth.

In pointing out the whole “socialist” thing —  by quoting a Conor Lamb Tweet from last year — I got pilloried. I asked why someone from out of state — in this case Maryland — cares so much, I got trashed. And then, when I suggested I would quote some of these reactions in this column, I was shredded for threatening people or some such silliness. I am also a Republican, apparently, too. Oh, and racist, too. And a socialist, too.

I’m not looking for sympathy — I’ve been called worse, both in my journalism and political careers — but I hit a nerve, but it is one that could doom Democrats in the fall.

So, it all starts here:

Yeah, it’s a lovely toxic mix of left-wing stupidity, but it does show why Democrats, especially in Pennsylvania, need to be worried about “activists” turning off normal voters and just tuning out. What should be a winnable seat in November for Democrats might get flushed away by this sort of behavior.

As long as I’ve been around politics in PA, going back to Casey-Rendell in 2002, it seems like Democrats are much better in ripping the crap out of each other than turning their fire on Republicans. If anything, things are even worse now in the era of social media.

If Democrats can’t get on the same page by the fall, it’s going to be a very painful November.

Share this post:

Leave a Comment