SWATARA, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Democratic Party's primary season for the state's open U.S. Senate spot is in like a Lamb, but it's still too soon to tell if it'll go out like one in May.
Conor Lamb, the Pittsburgh-area congressman who has been trailing Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman in polling and fundraising, came 18 votes shy of picking up a massive endorsement at a party meeting last weekend at the Sheraton Harrisburg-Hershey Hotel.
Lamb picked up 159 out of 267 votes to garner overwhelming support from Pennsylvania party leaders. However, candidates must carry the high threshold of the support of two-thirds of voting members in order to win the party's endorsement.
"He's the party's guy," said Sarah Niebler, political scientist at Dickinson College. "For him not to get the endorsement, I'm sure he's disappointed."
Despite Lamb not picking up the endorsement from the Democratic Party Committee, the wide-ranging support from state party leaders signals a shift from the national movement. Nationally, the democratic party is shifting towards a more progressive base. However, Lamb's support shows democratic leaders in Pennsylvania still favor moderates.
It's why David Rodriguez, head of the Pennsylvania Democratic Latino Caucus, threw his group's support behind Congressman Lamb.
"Pennsylvania is not a progressive state," Rodriguez said. "It's more of a centrist state, and we feel Conor Lamb can compete in November against a republican."
Four main candidates are looking to fill the democratic nomination for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat left open by a departing Sen. Pat Toomey: Lamb, Fetterman, – the presumed frontrunner and current lieutenant governor – Philadelphia State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta and Val Arkoosh, a Montgomery County Commissioner.
The four went through two rounds of voting, with Fetterman and Kenyatta securing a distant second- and third-most votes in both rounds. Arkoosh failed to make it out of the first round of voting after not getting more than 15% of total votes.
The issue facing Pennsylvania democrats in the Senate primary is a common one in statewide election politics: catering to your base versus picking a candidate who can best win.
Fetterman, a progressive candidate, has the support of the democratic party base. So does Kenyatta, who would become the first Black and openly gay senator from Pennsylvania if elected. However, party leaders still feel Lamb, who is in his third term in Congress and won a Donald Trump district in 2018 to get there, has the best chance to beat whoever comes out of the republican primary in November.
"How far to the left can the party go without suffering consequences either in the commonwealth or nationally?" asked Niebler.
At the very least, Lamb's non-endorsement keeps the door ajar in a wide-open primary. Especially for Kenyatta and Arkoosh, who now have more time to make a name for themselves.
In the other statewide races, Attorney General Josh Shapiro earned the party's endorsement for governor, as he is the only candidate running. His hand-picked running mate, Pittsburgh-area State Rep. Austin Davis, earned the endorsement over Philadelphia State Rep. Brian Simms.