How Pennsylvania’s Statehouse Democrats propelled John Fetterman to the Senate

OPINION: Fetterman’s win confirms that even in battleground states, Democrats do not need to go further right to win statewide elections, but need to reaffirm democratic values and effectively engage their base.

John Fetterman declares victory early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Joe Lamberti for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

In a closely watched race, John Fetterman was declared the winner of Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat with 50.9% of the vote on Tuesday. According to NPR’s WHYY, Fetterman had strong grassroots support, which sought to bring alienated voters back to the Democratic Party.  

From June 2021 through this summer, Pennsylvania House Democrats led an ambitious and incredibly successful grassroots canvassing campaign, knocking on over 1 million doors and registering a record number of new voters — many of whom were young, black, brown or female. This massive outreach effort was spearheaded by Reps. Joanna McClinton, 40, who will soon be Pennsylvania’s first Black female House speaker, Leanne Krueger, 45, who made history in 2015 when she flipped her previously Republican-held seat to become the first woman to represent her Delaware County district, and Jordan Harris, 38, the House Democratic whip.

On Wednesday, the state representatives announced their grassroots strategy paid off in a big way. Democrats are poised to have the majority in the Pennsylvania House for the first time in over a decade. The strategy also bolstered turnout for Fetterman, whose Senate seat was previously held by Republican Pat Toomey. 

For young, Black, brown and female voters in Pennsylvania, this was an opportunity to reject the Trump-endorsed candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz. Fetterman ran on core democratic issues such as investing in last-mile services for rural communities, protecting women’s reproductive rights and safeguarding democracy — a direct challenge to election deniers and Trumpian politics. Fetterman’s win confirms that even in battleground states, Democrats need not go further right to win statewide elections, but rather we need to reaffirm democratic values and effectively engage our base. 

Nationwide, women turned out to protect their reproductive rights, and Black and brown voters turned out to protect their human rights at a time when systemic racism is being amplified rather than admonished by the radical right. In Pennsylvania, that is especially true. During the contest’s only debate on Oct. 25, Oz revealed that he thinks decisions about abortion should be made by “women, doctors, and local political leaders.” In a desperate and demeaning ploy to attract Black voters, Oz consoled a grieving African-American woman who lost a family member to gun violence at a campaign event in September. The woman, Sheila Armstrong, was later revealed to be on the Oz campaign’s payroll. 

Black, brown and women voters don’t want pandering. We want to feel heard by our political representatives. We want to be engaged. We want to see our vote yield positive results for our families and our communities. The groundbreaking grassroots strategy led by Reps. McClinton, Krueger and Harris demonstrated that an engaged and empowered diverse electorate is the deciding factor in battleground races. When we vote, Democrats win.

Correction, Nov. 11, 2022, 2:49 p.m.: An early version of this story incorrectly stated that Pennsylvania Democrats had won a majority of seats in the statehouse. But a number of races have yet to be called. The story has been updated.

Algene Sajery, a former Pennsylvanian, is CEO of Catalyst Global Strategies, LLC and a foreign policy and national security expert and political strategist with over 20 years of experience, serving on Capitol Hill in both the House and Senate and as a senior political appointee in the Biden administration. She made history in 2015 when she was named policy director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, becoming the first Black woman and person of color to serve in a senior leadership role on the committee. Her podcast, The Minority Leaders, highlights women of color leaders in politics and policymaking. Follow her on Twitter or learn more about her at

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!