Along with the Grand Canyon-sized chasm in how they view the role of government and approach the issues dominating the campaign, the two fields of party candidates for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania also differ widely in their approach to the dominant political figures in their respective parties.
On the Republican side a sort of primary within a primary is being waged as all of the candidates seek to bask in the still dominant aura of former President Donald Trump. Dr. Mehmet Oz would seem to have won that contest having received President Trump’s official endorsement, but that has not stopped the other candidates from emphasizing their Trump bona fides. All claim to be the heir of MAGA – Make America Great Again – regardless of whom the pied piper of MAGA has endorsed.
MAGA is, however, an idea popularized by a person. On those rare occasions when the candidates set aside personal attacks and actually talk policy there is remarkable unanimity on the key issues that animate a Republican Primary. All are pro-life, pro second amendment, pro-energy, pro protecting the border and are carbon copies of each other on virtually every issue. As a result residency – how long or whether certain candidates are actually Pennsylvanians – has become the most divisive factor.
The Democratic race could not be more different. Joe Biden? Crickets. Tom Wolf? Crickets. Nobody is racing to associate themselves with the two party leaders who polls show are deeply unpopular even with voters in their own party.
A Quinnipiac poll conducted in mid-April found just 35% of respondents approved of the job being done by President Biden with 55% disapproving. On direction of the country the Real Clear Politics average of polling finds 64.6% see the nation headed in the wrong direction; just 28% think we are on the right track.
Likewise at the state level the most recent Franklin & Marshall poll found 59% of Pennsylvanians see the commonwealth as being on the wrong track with 30% thinking we are headed in the right direction. Only 8% of those surveyed in the April poll say Governor Tom Wolf is doing an excellent job as governor, while 34% say he is doing a poor job.
Wolf’s incompetent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was fatal to many businesses and to an obscene number of nursing and personal care home residents. The Biden Administration is a dumpster fire with inflation running at a 40 year high and the bungling of foreign affairs from chaotic retreat from Afghanistan to his tepid response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Against this backdrop it is easy to understand why the Democrat candidates are staying as far away from Wolf and Biden as possible. They can do that during the primary, but the central theme of the GOP’s General Election campaign will obviously be to tie the winner to the unpopular leaders of their party.
The Democrat Primary has basically boiled down to a two person race between Wolf’s Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Pittsburgh area Congressman Conor Lamb. The two could not be more different in style – wags refer to the race as the hoodie vs. the blue blazer, and there are more distinct differences in their approach to policy than is evident in the Republican race.
Lamb has crafted an image, not necessarily accurate, as being more of a moderate. He eschews the toxic rhetoric of the Left attempting to be portrayed as the more reasonable voice in the race. That would be an asset in the General Election, but primaries are about appealing to the base in a way that won’t offend the ever shrinking middle. At that Lamb appears to not have succeeded.
Fetterman is an unabashed socialist. Should he be elected to the U.S. Senate he will make Bernie Sanders look like a Ted Cruz conservative. Fetterman aggressively campaigns for a far Left agenda fully bought into the Green New Deal which is largely responsible for the nation’s current economic woes. Even if he wanted to, Lamb could not move to the Left of Fetterman without falling off the edge of the planet.
While polling shows a GOP race with a large segment of undecided voters and no clear frontrunner, Fetterman has opened up a large lead in the Democratic Primary. He also enjoys a substantial fundraising advantage which will make it difficult for Lamb to catch up in the waning days of the Primary campaign.
The end result of these Primary skirmishes will be the nomination of two individuals who differ substantially in both style and substance. As voters in Penn’s Woods decide who will succeed Pat Toomey in the U.S. Senate they will undoubtedly be offered a clear choice.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected] )
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