John Fetterman vs. Biden Fatigue in Pennsylvania

The Back Booth will be hosting a weekend edition, The D.C. Brief. Here each Saturday, TIME’s politics newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and the left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Get The D.C. Brief Click here.

The proxy war for the future Republican Party has entered overtime. A orgy-alleging firebrand is eliminated and Democrats argue over which House candidate chief they should nominate if there’s a primary to a Republican incumbent.

The D.C. Brief spoke to two political professionals who have literally invested millions in competitive elections and others that capture the imaginations of the donors. To the right Corry Bliss has long been one of the Republican Party’s favorite fixers, a technocrat who has a record of saving dumpster-fire campaigns from themselves at the eleventh hour. He ran House Leadership’s favored super PAC before moving into consulting.

You can find the link to the right Julia RosenHe was awarded the position of head-ofthe-table as Democrats combined activism, money, technology and finance. Rosen is a veteran of MoveOn and ActBlue as well as the LGBT advocacy coordinator for the Equality Federation. She has witnessed the development of the Democratic Party over the past two decades. Her role as a consultant is also hers.

This conversation was edited.

Elliott: Welcome to The Back Booth, where we’ll spend some time solving all that ails our politics. I had hoped we’d have results in the Pennsylvania Senate race by now. Julia, where is your home country? What do you know about the Fetterman DNAIt did very well in Pittsburgh. This winning style could be replicated across the state.

Rosen: Hello from Mars, Penn. It just so happens that I am back at home this week.

Fetterman’s everyman schtick is resonating widely. This worked well for Fetterman when he ran to be Lieutenant Governor. Although he was strongly associated with Western PA and not all voters, he won every county.

Fetterman passed the extremely rare authenticity test. Fetterman looks and acts like the man you’d see at Sheetz filling up his truck with gas, smirking at the high prices. His greatest achievement is being able to reflect back on people their deep frustration. He just “gets it.”

This was more important than any endorsements or arguments regarding electability. And it’s dramatically different from what you are on the other side right now. He’s coming out of this primary remarkably unscathed.

Bliss: Julia is right that John Fetterman doesn’t look or sound like a normal politician. His “everyman” persona appealed to Democratic primary voters Tuesday. Conor Lamb is one of my favorite 2018 candidates. His strength as a candidate is demonstrated by Fetterman’s victory. You need candidates that are not traditional and can defy gravity in a difficult year. It will be fascinating to see whether he is able to outperform blue-collar/rural votes who have been leading our way.

Now after saying all that nice stuff about Fetterman, let’s come back to reality. November will focus on one thing and one only: a referendum on Biden’s performance. Right now, Biden’s approval rating in Pennsylvania is around 40% and gas prices are approaching $5 per gallon. If that doesn’t change and change a lot between now and Election Day, Republicans can take a homeless guy off the street and he will easily win the race. That’s it.

Corry: What’s the matter with the other side? I’m sincerely surprised how close it is.

Bliss: If I’m being honest, I have no idea what’s going to happen in Pennsylvania. All joking aside, Trump’s endorsement is still the most important factor in a Republican primary election. I see primary polling data in states and districts across the country and across the board, Trump’s favorability with Republicans is somewhere in the low 80s. Candidates, campaigns, and resources matter, but all those other factors being equal, if you have the Trump endorsement—and the money to let people know that—you should win.

Elliott: We just ObservedBiden will travel to Asia on his first visit, with high stakes and little interaction with the electorate. Can this be used to assist the President in resetting his unquestionably terrible polling results?

His numbers will increase if he’s out of the country. Ask me about the gas price in November, and I’ll tell you all you need. It doesn’t matter what else.

Elliott: You both know intra-party politics—especially at committees. How will it all turn out? It happensWith Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney I saw AOC wants him to step down as chair of the House Democrats’ campaign committee if he runs for another term in a district already with an incumbent. (Which is interesting given AOC doesn’t Pay D-Trip dues in the first place…)

Rosen: New York is an incredibly hot mess. Two redistricting cycles in California were watched by an independent commission. I have become a big advocate. Even though we lost a district, we were able to get the House seats competitively without all the drama and high stakes of New York.

Maloney was quick to make a decision and is now in serious trouble with his caucus. AOC says what I believe a lot members think. I’d give anything to be in those rooms listening to the tea. It won’t be pretty.

The Sherman/Berman race was a high-stakes drama in 2012, but you’ve now got multiple incumbent Democrat-on-incumbent Democrat races in New York, an area saturated with reporters. And it’s going to be a massive distraction from the real problems of the fundamentals compounded by thin resumes to run on from this Congress.

Elliott: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I’m glad we were able to do this.

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