Meanwhile, he has a chance to reach voters who wouldn’t typically vote for a Democrat. He is testing the idea that leftist candidates can win non-leftist voters with the right aesthetics and a platform of “workers, wages, weed.” Marijuana legalization, though not popular with elected Republicans, is popular with Republican voters. And in a recent focus group of Donald Trump voters, some even said they’d consider voting for Fetterman.
This visceral appeal is something Fetterman shares with Trump. During the 2016 campaign, many voters would tell me that they didn’t like the things Trump said or the policies he backed, but they felt that he called it as he saw it. (As it turned out, he became a historically dishonest president.) And Trump was hardly the first candidate to benefit from a split between his persona and his policies. In 2008, Barack Obama managed to become a heartthrob to young and progressive voters even though his actual platform was studiously moderate.
This sword has two edges. Sometimes a candidate’s persona repels voters who might otherwise support his or her policy agenda. The technocratic administrative whiz Jerry Brown’s lifelong ambition to become president was derailed in part by the impression some voters formed of him as a hippy-dippy “Governor Moonbeam.” (It might, however, have helped him dominate liberal California politics while pursuing a centrist, pragmatic course.) Many voters were apparently convinced that Hillary Clinton was a wild-eyed feminist radical, even though her policies and personality pointed to moderation.
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