The Unlikely Victory of John Fetterman

On CNN, John King was starting in on his green-screen magic tricks, squeezing Pennsylvania between his fingers. “We’re in a very narrow chess game,” he said. It was time for the talk of “razor-thin margins,” and “getting down to brass tacks.” The slim crowd at the Fetterman party was growing slimmer, with the largest crowd being that of the reporters occupying the press riser.

But a tight-knit crew in the balcony was going nowhere: Fetterman’s closest friends from Braddock, and elsewhere, were hanging out, making visits to the bar, feeling nervously optimistic. “I’m getting bombarded with messages,” Matt Katase, who founded Brew Gentlemen, a popular brewery in Braddock, told me. Fetterman had put Katase up for three years in a repurposed convent that he owns while Katase got his business started. Patrick Jordan, who started barebones productions, a theatre company in Braddock, told me, “I’m nervous for so many reasons—for the big picture, but also, that’s our friend.” Jordan has known Fetterman and his wife, Gisele, for some fifteen years. “Gisele worked a full shift in Braddock’s Free Store on Election Day,” he said. “While John was serving as lieutenant governor, the Fettermans stayed put in Braddock. They turned down living in the mansion, but kids were bused in every summer to use its pool as a community resource.”

It was now officially November 9th, and, as the minutes passed between midnight and 1 A.M., returns were looking better and better for Fetterman. County by county, he was outperforming Joe Biden’s results from 2020, which edged him closer, by the minute, to a win. “The Fettermans are the real deal,” Jordan said. “There’s no bullshit there.”

In tricky elections, Pennsylvania, the nation’s fifth most populous state, can take days to call winners, and King was making the throat-clearing indications that it wasn’t going to happen tonight. Then, MSNBC called the race for Fetterman, as did CNN, the Times, and, finally, the A.P. Friends and supporters who’d been fading or chatting on the balcony hustled down to the floor and grabbed Fetterman signs. CNN turned on a live feed of the event, and members of the crowd chanted Fetterman’s name at images of themselves on large screens. “I’m in the middle of insanity,” Jordan texted. Jake Tapper, the CNN correspondent, observed that the headquarters of Dr. Mehmet Oz, in the wealthier eastern part of the state, was empty, and admiringly noted the vim of the Fetterman crowd—comments that respectively earned boos and cheers. When Fetterman tweeted his victory, it seemed that a virtual acceptance speech might be his appearance for the evening. Then flunkies began to flit on and off the stage, and the bass lit into “Back in Black” by AC/DC.

Here came the confident and self-possessed John Fetterman, who moved easily, and delivered remarks without a single malaprop. “We held the line,” he said. “I never expected that we were going to turn these red counties blue, but we did what we needed to do . . . and, tonight, that’s why I’ll be the next U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.”

“We believe in you!” a man shouted from the fawning crowd. Fetterman called Gisele onto the stage with him. “Six months ago, she saved my life, walking out of a Sheetz bathroom,” he said. “We bet on the people of Pennsylvania, and you didn’t let us down!” But it was Gisele who had the last word. “Now the mother in me tells everyone to go to bed tonight and get some sleep!” The crowd didn’t obey. Instead, his staff flooded the stage, and Fetterman reappeared to take a photograph with some hundred young and grinning fans who’d made the impossible happen. ♦

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