By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The match-ups for several high-profile U.S. congressional and gubernatorial races in November’s midterm elections began to take shape in Pennsylvania and North Carolina on Tuesday.
Here are three takeaways from the primary elections:
ABORTION ON THE BALLOT
Abortion rights will be a central issue in the open race for Pennsylvania’s governorship.
Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in his bid to replace Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and has vowed to protect abortion rights against a Republican-controlled General Assembly that has proposed a series of anti-abortion bills.
State Senator Doug Mastriano, who emerged the winner on Tuesday from a crowded Republican primary, has proposed a so-called heartbeat bill that would ban abortions after six weeks. He recently called abortion genocide and would not allow exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother.
Shapiro quickly blasted Mastriano on Twitter as “the most extreme gubernatorial candidate in the country.”
The state legislature has introduced a bill that would prevent the state Supreme Court from declaring abortion a right in the wake of a possible ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that overturns the nationwide protections of its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That would send the issue of legalization back to the individual states.
Joseph Foster, chairman of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County, the state’s largest suburban county, said Democrats will spend considerable time reminding voters ahead of November’s elections that the only thing standing in the way of strict abortion laws is a Democrat in the governor’s mansion.
“If a Republican wins a governor seat, we are in deep trouble,” Foster said.
FETTERMAN FOLLOWS THROUGH
John Fetterman, the idiosyncratic, hoodie-wearing lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, defeated U.S. Democratic Senate primary rival Conor Lamb in convincing fashion despite a health scare that took Fetterman off the campaign trail for the race’s final weekend.
Now the road gets even tougher.
No matter who wins the Republican U.S. Senate primary, expect a flurry of ads this summer labeling Fetterman a “socialist” and a “radical” in the mold of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Fetterman supported Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid but has since sought to broaden his appeal, said Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist in Pittsburgh.
Analysts said Fetterman won on Tuesday with a populist persona that attracted both moderates and progressives, avoiding the kind of ideological mud-slinging that has plagued other Democratic primaries this year.
He has made a particular effort to reach out to working-class voters in counties that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won by 35 percentage points or more in the 2020 election.
With vote counting still under way, Fetterman’s most commanding leads were in rural counties where in many cases he led Lamb, a moderate congressman, by more than 50 points.
That rural appeal may allow him to siphon some votes away from his Republican opponent in those counties. But ultimately, Fetterman will have to win the way Democrats usually win in the state, by playing to suburban voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, said Jacob Rubashkin, an elections analyst in Washington.
Fetterman first has to reassure voters about his health after suffering a stroke last week. His campaign said a procedure on Monday to implant a pacemaker was successful and that Fetterman was on track for a “full recovery.”
President Joe Biden quickly congratulated Fetterman, his fellow Democrat, on Twitter after his primary win. The role Biden takes in the coming campaign will bear some watching.
The president, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, considers the state a second home, especially the Philadelphia region. Biden narrowly won the state in 2020 over Trump, after Trump won it four years earlier in a race against Hillary Clinton.
But Biden’s popularity in the state has waned, as it has in much of the country. A poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College earlier this month found that only one in three voters in the state approved of Biden’s job performance, including just 61% of Democrats. Fetterman was more popular among Democrats at 67%.
Fetterman calls himself a “different kind of Democrat” and favors policies more in line with the progressive Sanders than the moderate Biden. Would an appearance by Biden on the trail clash with Fetterman’s anti-establishment image and do more harm than good? Or would Biden help Fetterman bring in the swing voters, Black voters and women he will need to prevail in the general election?
That will be one drama hanging over the race in the next several months.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Newtown, Pennsylvania and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller)