The slow recovery of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat now running for the Senate, from a May stroke has sparked serious concern over his fitness to serve in the higher chamber if elected on Nov. 8. But even as overtly friendly big-box media outlets join in on the speculation over his health, the real weakness affecting Fetterman may be how highly vulnerable he is to Republican accusations of being soft on crime.
Fetterman’s first sit-down media interview since the stroke aired October 11 on NBC News. Even the blue-besotted Peacock partisans couldn’t deny that the progressive firebrand is clearly struggling.
“During the interview, Fetterman occasionally stuttered and had trouble finding words. He responded to oral questions after reading captions on a computer screen,” NBC News detailed. “I sometimes will hear things in a way that’s not perfectly clear. So I use captioning so I’m able to see what you’re saying on the captioning,” Fetterman revealed. “No, I don’t think it was hard. It was just about having to be thinking more, uh, sl, uh – slower – to just understand and that sometimes that’s kind of the processing that happens.”
Weak and Weaker?
The stroke has blunted the momentum Fetterman’s campaign held over Republican nominee Mehmet Oz in the early stages of the general election season. Oz is widely seen as an eminently beatable candidate in a purple state. Democrats have derided the TV doctor as an out-of-touch carpetbagger who swooped in from New Jersey to make a Senate run in the Keystone State. He also has an authenticity problem with Republicans. In a party still primarily dominated by former President Donald Trump, it’s little surprise that Oz sought to define himself as a Make America Great Again champion. He even nabbed Trump’s endorsement. The problem is he is not at all convincing in the role. Trump supporters have not remotely warmed to him. Oz faces the very real prospect of an enthusiasm gap with GOP voters that he cannot afford.
Democrats thus should have every reason to feel optimistic about flipping the seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Unfortunately for them, their nominee makes for an extremely easy target himself. Fetterman’s record provides Republicans all the ammunition they could ever hope for on an issue that will undoubtedly have a significant impact at the polls.
Fetterman Fault Line
As a Democrat sits in the White House, crime rates have spiked in America in 2022. Social media seems to never run out of outrageous examples of how dangerous America is becoming under President Joe Biden’s watch. What’s worse, most of the cases going viral seem to take place in large cities run by Democrats.
Pennsylvania’s biggest city, Philadelphia, has become a poster child for GOP attacks aimed at soft-on-crime Democrats. Its radically progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner, was elected on a “criminal justice reform” platform in 2017 and has since presided over a city awash in lawlessness.
In September, the city was jarred by the latest “senseless” murder, that of a Temple University graduate student during an attempted robbery. It was the most recent high-profile incident for critics to drop at Krasner’s feet.
“The city has reported 388 homicides so far this year, up slightly from 384 the same time last year, when Philly set a record with 562 homicides,” Axios reported in late September. “Robberies in which perpetrators used guns are up 60%,” the news site continued. “Property crimes are up more than 30%, with businesses getting hit hard as commercial burglaries have risen a staggering 50%.”
This is not a time to be a “decarceration” Democrat in Pennsylvania. And yet that is exactly what Fetterman is. A “Meet John” page on his campaign website highlights the candidate’s firm commitment to Krasner-style “criminal justice reform.” It boasts:
“As Lt. Governor, John has transformed the position and made a bully pulpit of the office, advocating for economic justice and criminal justice reform …
“As the chair of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, John has led the fight to give second chances to non-violent longtime inmates and free those who have been wrongfully convicted.
“He has taken numerous steps to overhaul the clemency process in Pennsylvania, including eliminating all fees associated with applying for a pardon, making the pardons application more user-friendly, and working to move the application process online. Under John’s tenure, the Board has recommended more applicants for commutation than under any lieutenant governor in decades.”
A September editorial in the New York Post captures some of the devastating talking points Republicans can cull from Fetterman’s time in office:
“Consider his recent appointment of Celeste Trusty, a self-described ‘buddy’ of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, to the state’s Board of Pardons (which Fetterman, as lieutenant governor, leads). Trusty is a cop-hater who wants to ‘disarm’ law enforcement, a position Fetterman shares …
“On his watch, the Board of Pardons recommended commutation at least 46 times, including 13 times for convicted murderers, where past LG’s boards averaged just four …
“In 2021, he cast the lone votes to spring a guy convicted of murdering a teen for heroin money and to free a man who murdered a woman with a pair of scissors …
“Fetterman endorsed Philly DA Larry Krasner after murders shot up 40% on his watch.”
Fetterman’s post-stroke physical weakness has certainly stalled his campaign. But the unfitness of his position on crime at a time when the issue is boiling over may be what ultimately proves his undoing.