Still, I find Fetterman to be notable because Democrats have nominated so few candidates like him in recent years. The party is more likely to choose ideologically consistent candidates whose presentation resembles that of a law professor or think-tank employee. Fetterman, like many working-class voters, has a mix of political beliefs. On the campaign trail, he wears shorts and a hoodie.
Describing his appeal to voters, Sarah Longwell, a Republican political strategist, said: “It’s not that he’s progressive that they like or don’t like. They like that he’s authentic.”
Although the specifics are different, he shares some traits with Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, who comes off as “simultaneously progressive, moderate and conservative,” as the political scientist Christina Greer wrote in The Times. Adams won his election despite losing Manhattan, New York’s most highly educated, affluent borough.
Fetterman also has some similarities with Senator Sherrod Brown, a populist Democrat who has managed to win in Ohio and who revels in “his less than glamorous image,” as Andrew J. Tobias of Cleveland.com has written.
For years, most Democrats trying to figure out how to win over swing voters have taken a more technocratic approach than either Adams or Fetterman. Centrist Democrats have often urged the party to move to the center on almost every issue — even though most voters support a progressive economic agenda, such as higher taxes on the rich.
Liberal Democrats have made the opposite mistake, confusing the progressive politics of college campuses and affluent suburbs with the actual politics of the country. Some liberals make the specific mistake of imagining that most Asian, Black and Latino voters are more liberal than they are. As a shorthand, the mistake is sometimes known as the Latinx problem (named for a term that most Latinos do not use).
It remains unclear whether Fetterman represents a solution to the Democrats’ working-class problem. But the problem is real: It is a central reason that Democrats struggle so much outside the country’s large metro areas. And if Democrats hope to solve it, they will probably have a better chance if more of their candidates feel familiar to working-class voters.