Blue -or Bluer
Newsweek|May 06, 2022
In Pennsylvania and Texas, democratic voters face clear ideological choices that could signal the party's direction
By Steve Friess. Photograph by Shana Novak

In this first primary season since

Republican Donald Trump left the White House, the Democrats' traditional tug-of-war over the party's ideological identity- moderate vs. progressive is back at center stage. Nowhere will that be more apparent than in key races in Pennsylvania and Texas.

The backdrop: a downbeat national mood that makes it increasingly likely Democrats will lose their slim majorities in one or both houses of Congress this fall. The headwinds are stiff, given that the party in the White House has lost seats in all but two midterm elections since World War II, Republicans can pound away at an inflation rate that has spiked to a 40-year high since Joe Biden came to office and the administration's approval rating has sunk to all-time lows.

Here's a look at the two key races and what they say about the party's future.

PENNSYLVANIA

The season's marquee matchup for Democrats is the May 17 race between Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman and two-term Representative Conor Lamb to determine who runs this fall to replace retiring GOP Senator Pat Toomey. The winner rolls into the general election to face a competitive electorate Pennsylvania went for Biden in 2020 by 1.2 percentage points after Trump eked out a 0.7 percentage point win in 2016-in one of the few spots on the map where Democrats believe they can flip a Senate seat.

Lamb, 37, has been a rising star in the party, a military veteran who flipped a House seat in central Pennsylvania in 2018 and burnished his centrist credentials by opposing Nancy Pelosi as too liberal when she retook the post of House Speaker in 2019. Fetterman, meanwhile, won statewide election in 2018 as lieutenant governor as a brash-talking 6-foot-8-inch, bald, goatee'd progressive who endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic Socialist, for president in 2016 and supports Medicare for All.

Fetterman led Lamb by 20 points in the most recent public poll and, if that margin holds up, it would make a strong case that Democrats in a large, diverse state overwhelmingly prefer policies that lean left.

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