John Fetterman, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, defeated Republican celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz to represent the state in the Senate.
"It's official. I will be the next U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania," Fetterman tweeted after his victory was announced. "We bet on the people of Pennsylvania - and you didn’t let us down. And I won’t let you down. Thank you."
Fetterman’s victory snatches a critical open congressional seat back from Republicans after Sen. Pat Toomey decided not to run for reelection.
And with the Democrat having nurtured an image as a hoodie-wearing tattooed everyman (even if he did come from a well-off family), Fetterman also represents a model for how his party can stay competitive in swing states with candidates who appeal to white and blue-collar voters.
Fetterman's victory will also be lauded by advocates for people with permanent and temporary disabilities, who defended him over the accommodations he needed as he recovered from a stroke.
Speaking to supporters just before 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Fetterman seemed at a loss for words as he laughed and wiped the corners of his eyes.
"I'm not really sure what to say right now, my goodness," he told the crowd chanting his name. "I'm so humbled, thank you so much, really, thank you."
Fetterman was joined onstage by his wife, Gisele, and their three children — who all donned hoodies like their dad.
"I’m proud of what we ran on," he said. "Protecting a woman’s right to choose, raising our minimum wage, fighting [for] the union way of life. Healthcare is a fundamental human right. It saved my life, and it should all be there for you if you ever should need it."
With the balance of power in the Senate on a knife’s edge, Pennsylvania had been one of the most closely watched races in the country. Groups on both sides poured tens of millions of dollars into the race.
This was Oz’s first campaign for elected office, and he quickly learned just how rough politics could be. During the Republican primary, opponent David McCormick hit Oz, who was born in the US but also holds Turkish citizenship, for having served in Turkey’s military and for voting in that country’s 2018 elections. These attacks questioning Oz’s loyalty to the US were criticized by some Republicans, with Sen. Lindsey Graham calling them “unsavory.”
After the contentious primary, Oz defeated McCormick by just 1,000 votes.
For the Democrats, Fetterman had long been the presumptive favorite, given his extensive name recognition in the state as lieutenant governor. He ended up garnering 58.6% of the vote, compared to Rep. Conor Lamb’s 26.3% and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta’s 10.9%.
But as the campaign got underway, Fetterman was mostly sidelined from in-person events following his near-deadly stroke in May. His doctor had told the media that Fetterman would be fit to serve in the Senate so long as he concentrated on his health and recovery in the short term. Oz soon began running a “basement tracker” to keep count of how many days Fetterman was at home.
Despite his health, Fetterman still enjoyed momentum over the summer thanks to a spirited digital campaign that mocked Oz mercilessly for things as silly as his use of the word “crudité.”
But Oz kept up his attacks with an advertising blitz that tied Fetterman to inflation and cast him as a “radical” who is soft on crime.
An interview last month between Fetterman and an NBC reporter also sparked controversy for what disability advocates described as an ableist focus on the accommodations he required. Still experiencing auditory processing issues after his stroke, Fetterman used live transcription software during the interview so he could read the questions he was being asked.
As he campaigned, Fetterman tried to sell his recovery to voters as something relatable, releasing a commercial in which he said he wanted to make it easier to access healthcare and spend “more time with those we love,” just as he had been able to do as he recovered.
The Democrat used the same transcription service at his Oct. 25 debate against Oz in Harrisburg, which Fetterman opened by saying he wanted to address “the elephant in the room,” even as he declined to release his full medical records.
“I had a stroke. He’s never let me forget that,” Fetterman said of his rival. “And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together, but it knocked me down, and I’m going to keep coming back up.”
During the debate, Fetterman did jumble some words or pause before answering, leading political news website Axios to describe his performance as “painful.”
But Oz also put his foot in his mouth on at least one occasion, telling viewers that he thought abortion should be a decision between “women, doctors, [and] local political leaders.” With Democrats campaigning across the country with a warning that Republicans will further restrict abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, Oz’s comments were quickly cut into attack ads against him.
Yet Oz was also able to paint himself as something of a relative moderate thanks to the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Doug Mastriano, a far-right extremist who was one of the leading proponents in Pennsylvania for Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.
Although he had received Trump’s endorsement during the primary, Oz told Pennsylvanians that he would have voted to certify Biden’s 2020 win.
Stephanie K. Baer contributed reporting.