Sep 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The "Fetterwoman" strategy

emocratic Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman prepares to throw a t-shirt that states "FETTERWOMAN" to supporters during a rally.
John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat, prepares to throw a T-shirt that states "FETTERWOMAN" to supporters during a rally. Photo: Mark Makela via Getty Images

BLUE BELL, Pa. — As the hulking man tossed pink T-shirts into the crowd and roared, "I am John Fetterwoman," he drew conservative commentators' ire but screams of approval from a heavily female abortion-rights crowd.

Why it matters: Since his stroke, Lt. Gov. Fetterman, this swing state's Democratic nominee for Senate, has gingerly returned to the trail.

  • He says he won't debate til mid-October. He's held only a few events. His stump speeches are short.
  • But amid the stage management, he's leaning hard into calls to protect women's abortion rights as he and his team see it as one of his best weapons against GOP rival Mehmet Oz in one of the most important races in the country.

The big picture: Pennsylvania is among the swing states most supportive of abortion rights.

  • Fetterman has been one of the most charismatic examples of Democratic candidates who could court back working-class men lost to Republicans in recent presidential cycles.
  • But his pink-T pitch to a crowd of 2,700 at a community college gymnasium Sunday was aimed squarely at suburban women. He was joined by Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) and Parent Parenthood Action Fund president Alexis McGill Johnson.

Details: "Women are the reason we can win," Fetterman said in an 11-minute stump speech. "Let me say that again. Women are the reason we win. Don't piss women off."

  • "This decision is between a woman and a real doctor," he said of the medical procedure, a dig at Oz's career as a celebrity doctor on TV.
  • He promised to get rid of the filibuster and codify Roe v. Wade if elected in November.

What they're saying: Some women in the crowd told Axios they aren't worried about the stroke's impact on Fetterman's ability to serve. "If he has a heartbeat, I'm voting for him," said Tracey Gale, 53.

  • Lee Geisler, 65, said she has previously voted for Republicans as well as Democrats — but with abortion rights on the line, that's no longer an option. "I believe this is the most important issue there is," Geisler said. "Women are the largest majority in this country."

The other side: Republicans are stepping up spending in the state, and Oz is rallying suburban voters around concerns over crime.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce made a $3 million contribution this week to the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund super PAC for the Pennsylvania race, Axios' Josh Kraushaar reported.
  • The Senate Leadership Fund has reserved and spent $34.1 million in Pennsylvania starting in August and through Election Day.

The intrigue: Fetterman's wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, told Axios in an interview that she was an escort for patients at an abortion clinic for a period of time during college.

  • Her own views of the importance of abortion rights, she said, were partly shaped by understanding the experiences of women in Brazil, where she was born and spent her early years.
  • "I grew up in a country where abortion was mostly illegal, so I've seen the other side."
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