Saturday, April 20

With Biden on sidelines, Conor Lamb faced long odds in Pa. Senate primary

Months later, Biden began testing the waters for his eventual 2020 bid, with Lamb at his side at Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade, kicking off an eight-week sprint in support of more moderate Democrats who helped propel the party back into control of the House halfway through Trump’s presidency. Lamb’s congressional campaign at the time also happened to be advised by Mike Donilon, who has long been one of Biden’s most trusted advisers.

A year later, Lamb endorsed Biden just weeks before the Iowa caucuses, joining him on the road during some of the most difficult days of his campaign to make the case that only Biden could lead the party to victory in November.

In 2020, both Lamb and Kenyatta were among 17 “rising stars” chosen for a montage keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. After that, Lamb would campaign for Biden as much as for himself, acting as a key campaign surrogate in critical Western Pennsylvania through Biden’s election eve rally there in November.

Fetterman’s history with Biden pales in comparison. I have endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., In the 2016 presidential race and built his brand of him as an anti-establishment politician more comfortable in his trademark hoodie and gym shorts than in the expected attire of a US senator. When Biden planned to travel to Pittsburgh at the beginning of this year, the headlines the day before were that Fetterman had snubbed the White House’s invitation to join him.

While Fetterman ended up joining Biden that day, his campaign has otherwise focused on Democrats’ struggles to implement Biden’s broader agenda. In doing so, he implicitly cast Lamb as being more in league with Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., as a potential obstacle to progressive priorities.

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The White House’s unwillingness to wade into the Democratic primary stood in stark contrast to the role Biden played as vice president 12 years ago, when he persuaded Republican Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties and seek re-election as a Democrat. Specter, despite the endorsements of Biden and President Barack Obama, lost the primary to Rep. Joe Sestak, who in turn lost the general election to Sen. Pat Toomey. Toomey’s decision not to seek re-election opened up the critical Senate seat now.

Biden political advisers say that regardless of whatever fondness they had for Lamb, they couldn’t see a path to victory. Prodigious online fundraising allowed Fetterman to drastically outspend Lamb — $14.2 million to $4.8 million as of April 27, the end of the most recent filing period. Still, a top Lamb ally said even quiet signals of support from Biden could have made an early difference and accused the White House of simply seeking to avoid a fight with the progressive base after months of grievous legislative battles.

Biden was quick to congratulate Fetterman on Tuesday night, saying in a statement that Fetterman “understands that working class families in Pennsylvania and across the country have been dealt out for far too long,” and his advisers say Fetterman’s recent messaging signals that he embraces Biden’s agenda and would welcome him on the campaign trail this fall.

“He’s run on a common-sense agenda, about bringing people together and being a senator for all of the counties in Pennsylvania, but also a reliable Democratic senator,” a top adviser said.

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