Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman poses for a photo while campaigning for the US Senate in Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania. | Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

How the Pennsylvania Senate primary became a fight for the future of the Democratic Party.

Who will win Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary on Tuesday, May 17, isn’t much of a mystery. John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, has been leading in polls for months in one of Democrats’ most important races for keeping control of the Senate.

Recent polls show him ahead of his closest challenger, Rep. Conor Lamb — the sort of moderate Democrats typically put forward in Pennsylvania Senate races — by 30 points.

His dominance may seem surprising. But behind it is his success in addressing two pressing problems Democrats have struggled with nationally. That their primary voters tend to favor progressive policies more than general election voters, and their party seems unable to clearly define what it believes and who it’s for: It wants to advance progressive ideas without being branded as leftist, and to strike a balance between elite priorities and blue-collar concerns.

The quirks of his candidacy mean that Fetterman is able to find a balance between extremes. A longtime politician, he’s promoted progressive causes in the state while also bending to practical, populist concerns. And he’s done much of that while wearing Carhartt hoodies and basketball shorts.

That’s not to say Fetterman has a lock on the general election. But if Fetterman wins, he and Democratic voters will be making a bet: An unconventional, but authentic candidate who is progressive enough to win a Democratic primary won’t doom the party in a general election.

Who is John Fetterman?

Fetterman’s parents were conservative Republicans, who went from being “extremely poor” to affluent because of his dad’s small business. He became interested in public service after a close friend’s...

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