In Pennsylvania’s closely watched U.S. Senate race, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman narrowly defeated celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. In surviving a bruising campaign and overcoming a serious stroke, Fetterman deserves credit for holding off a formidable challenge from Oz in the closing weeks of the campaign.

The race pitted a left-leaning Democrat against a right-leaning Republican. Even though issues didn’t dominate the Senate race – it was more of a slugfest of attacks and counterattacks – the ideological chasm between the two candidates framed the campaign. Oz tried to exploit those differences by, repeatedly, calling Fetterman “extreme” and “radical,” but Fetterman’s portrayal of Oz as a “liar” was the label that really stuck.

Fetterman succeeded by not conceding red counties to the Republicans. His appeal to white working-class voters – the people who have left the Democratic Party in droves – and his progressive politics may give Democrats, who have increasingly targeted suburban swing voters, a new model and path to victory. Fetterman supports a big increase in the minimum wage and “Medicare for All,” though he also supports, in a possible election-year conversion, more right-leaning policies like fracking. As a U.S. senator, Fetterman vows to put a high priority on raising the minimum wage, union rights, abortion rights and access to health care.

With control of the U.S. House and Senate still up in the air, national election results reflect a country as divided as Pennsylvania’s Senate race. It will take real leadership in Washington to overcome those differences and move the country forward.

To win the Senate seat, Fetterman, 52, had to battle not only attacks on his record from Oz but also the after-effects of a serious, life-threatening stroke in May that restricted his campaigning. The negatives, however, surrounding Oz – chiefly his image as a slick, out-of-touch New Jersey resident who parachuted into Pennsylvania to grab a Senate seat – proved too much to overcome. Lingering allegations that Oz, as a celebrity talk show host, amassed some of his fortune by peddling products of dubious medical value also tainted his reputation.

Fetterman has moved, almost seamlessly, from a 13-year run as the small-town mayor of Braddock to Lt. Governor since 2019, and now the U.S. Senate. His biker persona, tatted arms and 6-foot-8 frame, along with a Harvard degree, have given him a blue-collar image that has been unstained by his history of living off his parents’ wealth for much of his adult life. Fetterman will replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. To succeed in that role, he will have to do much more than flex his image – and he may want to pick up a couple of suits that fit if he wants to be taken seriously on a national stage.

To become an effective senator who delivers for Pennsylvania, Fetterman will have to work with Republicans and even Democrats who disagree with him. Part of Fetterman’s appeal is that he’s not a schmoozer – and he doesn’t have to become one. Nor does he need to sacrifice his ideals. But he will need to get along with people to form alliances that move the needle, and that won’t be easy in a fractious congress. As a small-town mayor and lieutenant governor, a position with few official responsibilities, Fetterman could go it alone; he can’t in the U.S. Senate.

With inflation, a lack of living-wage jobs, climate change, an oppressive criminal justice system, a broken health care and mental health care system, the ongoing effects of the pandemic on the nation’s health and economy, abortion rights and other searing issues embroiling the nation, the challenges facing the next Congress will equal or exceed those of any in the last 100 years.

Along with his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, John Fetterman will have to rise to the occasion and show he’s up to the job.

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