Philly leaders say reason for Lamb endorsement is simple: ‘He campaigned’

A closeup of Rep. Conor Lamb

In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pa, in Pennsylvania's 17th U.S. Congressional District, talks with reporters after voting in Mt. Lebanon. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb collected a big endorsement Tuesday night, with the Philadelphia Democratic Party voting to back him officially in the May primary for U.S. Senate.

Party leaders say they chose Lamb over fellow Philly politician Malcolm Kenyatta and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman because they think Lamb can win. But the decision was also a personal one.

“Lamb has campaigned,” said Bob Brady, the former longtime congressman and head of the city Democratic Committee. “He’s talked to every ward leader … he’s talked to a lot of committee people. He’s been in the city a lot, and he campaigned. Fetterman has done no campaigning whatsoever.”

Of Kenyatta, a young, relatively new state representative, Brady said that he “did the work,” but that “there are people who … didn’t think Malcolm could win. They didn’t think he had the money, and they don’t think he could win the primary or the general.”

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Fetterman has raised far and away the most money of any primary candidate on either side of the aisle, thanks to an online fundraising operation that has yielded robust small-dollar donations, primarily from within Pennsylvania.

Lamb, who entered the race after Fetterman, has been striving to catch up, leaning much more heavily on PACs and big donors to build a campaign war chest. Despite a list of high-profile endorsements from groups such as the American Federation of Teachers and SEIU Pa. State Council, Kenyatta lags far behind in fundraising.

But in the eyes of Philly party insiders, all Fetterman’s money is less important than face time.

State Sen. Sharif Street serves in the chamber where Fetterman presides and works closely with Kenyatta, who lives in his district and used to be one of his staffers. He and his father, former Philadelphia Mayor John Street, both made a point of endorsing Lamb publicly.

Like Brady, Sharif Street said he appreciates Lamb reaching out to city leaders. He bristled at the suggestion that that campaign style means Lamb is primarily focused on winning over party establishment types, as Kenyatta’s and Fetterman’s supporters have suggested.

“I think the criticism is because the other two candidates are talking to people over Twitter and the internet and [think] somehow Conor is talking to the establishment, where he’s really talking to ordinary people who are ordinary leaders in their city and trying to solve real problems,” Street said.

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Ahead of the endorsement vote, city party members heard speeches from all three primary candidates. Fetterman “did a nice job,” Brady said, “but look, he’s been a lieutenant governor for three years. Never seen him. We don’t know who he is.”

Lamb won the vote “overwhelmingly,” Brady said. “I think Fetterman got two votes. Malcolm got maybe 10, if he got that.”

Joe Calvello, a spokesman for Fetterman, said Brady is underplaying Fetterman’s engagement with Philly leaders.

“Since launching his campaign, John has met with Bob in person, he has also met with a number of Philadelphia ward leaders,” Calvello said.

Kenyatta released a statement saying that “we want to win every endorsement we can, but the only endorsement that truly counts is the one from voters on Election Day.”

“I have never been the candidate of the establishment — and that is not the path to winning this election,” Kenyatta said. “If we want to change the Senate, we need to change the senators.”

The Philly Democrats’ decision didn’t come as a surprise to those following the campaign. Despite the fact that the state Democratic Party didn’t manage to coalesce behind any of the primary candidates, Lamb came closest to clinching the nod.

The congressman from Pittsburgh’s suburbs also racked up a lot of endorsements from party insiders and traditional political heavyweights in recent months, with nods arriving from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a slew of state and county officials, and the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, among others.

In a statement, Lamb said he was “proud” to be endorsed by the Philly Democrats, and that he hopes to help “break the gridlock on issues like gun violence, housing, and schools” in the Senate.

“We showed tonight that our hard work pays off just as well in Philadelphia as it did in my Republican-leaning congressional districts, where I beat three of Trump’s candidates in three years,” he added. “This is what all of Pennsylvania’s Democrats are looking for, and that’s exactly what our campaign is giving them.”

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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