Who is John Fetterman? The Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania Senate

·6 min read

In Pennsylvania’s Senate race, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman beat the pack of Democrats competing to be the party nominee to fill the vacant seat left by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

Fetterman's primary election victory marked another milestone in what has been a storied rise through Pennsylvania politics that began in a hollowed-out steel town, where he was mayor.

The considerable lead he accrued in the polls over Democratic Rep.  Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta was reflected on election night. Fetterman received almost 60% of the vote while he recovered from a stroke in a hospital. 

Now, he is taking on Trump-backed celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who secured a narrow victory over former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick in the Republican primary.

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In this photo from Jan. 5, 2022, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate, John Fetterman, left, in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) ORG XMIT: PAKS
In this photo from Jan. 5, 2022, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate, John Fetterman, left, in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) ORG XMIT: PAKS

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Who is John Fetterman?

In 2018, Fetterman unseated a Democratic incumbent to become Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor.

The 6 foot 8, tattooed and suit-averse Fetterman looks more like a blue-collar worker than an elected official, but his appearance has served him well politically.

He was narrowly elected mayor of Braddock, a small town near Pittsburgh, in 2005.

Fetterman has been credited with helping spark new life into the steel town of a few thousand residents that reports say had seen its population shrink by 90%.

Major TV and print outlets have profiled Fetterman’s role as Braddock mayor through the years. The New York Times called him “the mayor of rust' in 2011.

In 2016, Fetterman hoped to ride his acclaim to Washington, but failed to get past the Democratic primary in his first Senate try. 

He  remained Braddock's mayor until he took state office in 2019.

Candidate suffers stroke: Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman suffers stroke days before primary election

As lieutenant governor, Fetterman has championed legalizing recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania and served as the chair of the state’s pardon board, which Fetterman's campaign site says "has recommended more applicants for commutations than under any lieutenant governor in decades.”

Over the course of the campaign, Fetterman has been grilled by his opponents over a 2013 incident in Braddock that took place while he was mayor.

Fetterman wielded a shotgun and confronted a Black jogger after Fetterman said he heard a series of gunfire. The jogger claimed Fetterman pointed the firearm at his chest. Fetterman has denied that claim and  said he was unaware of the jogger's race during the incident because he was wearing a mask.

John Fetterman on abortion, minimum wage and other issues

Fetterman’s platform includes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 or higher, transitioning to renewable energy “as quickly as possible” to combat climate change and legalizing marijuana nationally.

Many associate him  with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party because he endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, and Sanders backed him in his 2018  lieutenant governor run. Fetterman in the past supported a single-payer healthcare system “before it was mainstream,” according to his campaign website.

But he has resisted the “progressive” label, telling NBC News he is “just a Democrat.”

Fetterman is pro-union. He has signaled his support for eliminating the Senate filibuster and said he would vote to codify Roe v. Wade’s abortion protections into law in light of the leaked Supreme Court draft overturning the 1973 ruling. 

Who has endorsed John Fetterman?

Several local elected officials, including the current mayor of Braddock, are backing Fetterman. The Pennsylvania Postal Workers Union and a United Steel Workers chapter are among his union supporters.

Where did John Fetterman go to school?

Fetterman got an undergraduate degree from Albright College in 1991. He holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Connecticut and a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Who is John Fetterman’s wife?

Fetterman is married to Giselle Barreto Fetterman, who helped start a food assistance non-profit organization. Barreto Fetterman, a formerly undocumented immigrant from Brazil, is Pennsylvania's second lady. In 2020, she made headlines after an incident in which a woman hurled racist insults at her.

Does John Fetterman have children?

Fetterman has three kids with his wife. The family lives  inside a converted car dealership in Braddock, according to his campaign site. 

Fetterman vs. Oz in the polls

Fetterman holds a 9-point advantage over Oz, according to a June USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll. Another poll last month from AARP showed Fetterman ahead of Oz by 6 points.

Fetterman’s health after stroke

Fetterman suffered a stroke in May that left him hospitalized on primary election night and off the campaign trail in the months since.

Weeks after the stroke, Fetterman announced he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that weakens the heart muscle and can cause potentially fatal irregular heartbeats, the Associated Press reported.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Fetterman is planning to return to in-person campaign events this week. In his first media interview since the stroke, Fetterman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday “I would never be in this if we were not, 100% able to run fully and to win—and we believe that we are.” 

Fetterman campaign trolls Oz with 'Snooki' from Jersey Shore

Part of Fetterman's campaign strategy has been to cast Oz as an outsider with little ties to Pennsylvania, zeroing in on the fact that Oz lived in New Jersey for 30 years before moving to Pennsylvania in 2020, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In a Cameo video posted on Fetterman’s Twitter, reality TV star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s Jersey Shore addresses Oz.

"I heard you moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to look for a new job, and personally, I don't know why anyone would want to leave Jersey, cause it's, like, the best place ever," Polizzi said.

Read the full story: 'Snooki' helps John Fetterman campaign troll Dr. Oz in race for Pennsylvania Senate seat

Contributing: Ella Lee

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John Fetterman is taking on 'Dr. Oz' in the Pennsylvania Senate race

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