Fetterman leveraged his “outsider” appeal to appeal to Pennsylvania’s increasing populist electorate and waged a voter-focused campaign.
John Fetterman not only won in Pennsylvania, but he also defeated his opponents. With 92 percent of votes counted Wednesday, the lieutenant governor had won every county in the state and had a 30-point advantage against U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb.
He achieved it despite a late and surprising turn of events: Fetterman suffered a stroke days before the primary and spent Election Day in the hospital recovering.
His triumph was so lopsided that it faded into the background of a tight GOP Senate battle that was still too close to call Wednesday morning. While surveys and political analysts projected his victory, his victory marks a significant departure from the more moderate candidates that Democratic voters normally support in Pennsylvania primaries.
Fetterman appealed to Pennsylvania’s burgeoning populist voters while yet delivering a progressive message. He entered the contest early and established an unrivaled Democratic fundraising organization. And, when combined with a social media campaign and television advertisements, his “every county” technique blanketed his brand statewide.
How Fetterman won
He was a populist-progressive candidate.
In many ways, Fetterman’s nomination flips the script on the kind of candidate Pennsylvania has recently nominated. But more historically, outsiders have often done well in the state’s primaries, including Ed Rendell, Joe Sestak, and even Tom Wolf.
And a lot of voters, aware of a political environment in which Democrats have lost voters to Trump’s Republican party,saw Fetterman’s “outsiderness” as a plus. In a year when Democrats are predicted to struggle, Fetterman’s pitch that he could appeal to a wide base clearly resonated.
That also undercut Fetterman’s biggest opponent, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, whose message had been that he and his more moderate approach would be the most electable.
» READ MORE: Key takeaways from the Pennsylvania primary election
Fetterman also ran a campaign laser-focused on voters, whereas Lamb mined the political establishment for endorsements and the support of lawmakers.
“He wisely focused on winning support from Democratic voters, as opposed to the Democratic establishment,” said Democratic strategist J.J. Balaban. “At a time when Democrats are frustrated with politics as usual, Fetterman’s approach matched the political moment and struck Democrats as different. He ran effective ads that credibly built on that image.”
He got in early — and raised the most money.
Fetterman set his campaign up extremely well by being the first Democrat to announce in the race and netting the early windfall of cash that followed. He vastly out-raised his opponents in a year when Democratic fundraising isn’t as robust as when Trump was in the White House.
The haul was a notable improvement from his last Senate run in 2016, when he ran on a shoestring budget.
He capitalized on his higher profile as lieutenant governor.
Fetterman came in with the highest name recognition thanks to his time as mayor of Braddock and lieutenant governor. Traditionally, Pennsylvania’s second in command hasn’t gone on to political prominence, but Fetterman spent his one term building his brand through astatewide marijuana decriminalization tour and his work at the Board of Pardons.
He also got on some people’s radars in an unsuccessful 2016 bid for Senate.
All of that, Balaban said, “along with his literally larger-than-life persona, helped him to enter this race with a big lead … a lead he never lost.”
His wife helped increase the campaign’s reach.
Gisele Fetterman, the wife of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, speaks to supporters…
It was clear early in the race that Fetterman had turned from candidate to celebrity, and his wife, Gisele, was a part of that appeal.
Supporters at Fetterman rallies often stuck around to take photos with her. And no other candidate’s spouse was as visible on the campaign trail.
When John Fetterman was hospitalized with a stroke in the last week, Gisele Fetterman delivered an acceptance speech for her husband, faced reporters at the polls, and appeared on TV the morning after his win.