Pennsylvania dispatch: Obama campaigns for US Senate candidate Fetterman at University of Pittsburgh campus rally – JURIST

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JURIST staffers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law are filing dispatches on various aspects of the November 2022 midterm elections in Pennsylvania. Here, Pitt Law 1L Morgan Hubbard reports on the Obama-Fetterman rally held at the University of Pittsburgh campus Saturday. She and other Pitt Law students were there.

US Senate candidate John Fetterman held a campaign rally Saturday on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in a final push for voters in Western Pennsylvania just three days before Election Day. President Barack Obama, Democratic Party congressional candidates Summer Lee and Chris Deluzio, and Mayor Ed Gainey joined Fetterman on stage in Schenley Plaza before a large crowd of students, local residents, and voters from across the Commonwealth. The speeches were positive and empowering, speaking to the voter issues visible on the crowd’s t-shirts and pins: messages championing abortion access, climate action, union protections, and more.

One of the first to take the stage was Andrew Fingeret, a field organizer for Fetterman’s campaign. Fingeret greeted the crowd and told his story of being a high school student during the 2016 election. For him, the issue of gun violence, especially in schools, was top of mind as a young voter. Looking at the crowd, he observed that “if you’re here today, you must also feel the urgency of this political moment.”

Summer Lee gave a similar message on the importance of restricting gun violence, criticizing the inaction of her opponent’s party on the issue: “They will give you guns, but won’t give you books in public libraries. They will give you guns, but won’t give you infrastructure.” Lee shared her background as a Pittsburgh native, citing the public schools, transportation, and institutions that made it possible for her to succeed. The crowd’s enthusiasm grew as she ended her speech with a rousing list of the issues that unite voters, even where political campaigns aim to place wedges.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey spoke to the importance of getting voters to the polls. He prompted the crowd to keep pushing in these next few days, to keep knocking on doors and making phone calls. A theme of his speech was saving democracy in this election. At the end of his time, he took an opportunity to call in republican and moderate voters: “Say no to extreme, and say yes to a dream.”

Second Lady of Pennsylvania Gisele Barreto Fetterman welcomed Lt. Governor Fetterman to the stage. After a long round of applause and cheers, Fetterman joked: “I got a pro tip for giving a speech after having a stroke: don’t go right before Barack Obama.” The crowd laughed and settled in as Fetterman spoke to the issues present on this ballot. Similar to his discussion of the issues in the debate, he focused on his connection to working families, the union way of life, and the stakes of losing this senate seat.

President Barack Obama ended the rally with a call to action, speaking to the weight of this election. He lamented that democracy is at stake with contests over free and fair election results. Recalling his loss during his first congressional campaign, he observed how the political landscape has changed to make room for conspiracy and skepticism about our election system.

On the issue of abortion, he started by expressing empathy for those who do not support abortion, as he sees it as such a difficult and sensitive issue. However, he echoed Fetterman’s earlier sentiments that the decision belongs between a pregnant person and a doctor, not a government official. Further, he spoke to the impact of this election on future legislation that will affect the issue of bodily autonomy as a constitutional right. He reminded the crowd to set their clocks back this weekend, but to “push them forward” this Tuesday.

Though Obama’s tone was urgent, it was also hopeful. He said he often reminds First Lady Michelle Obama that “[he’s] the hope guy.” Addressing Fetterman’s fitness for office, he celebrated Fetterman’s resilience and his hard work for the people:

“You also know that John is tough […]. Like a lot of Pennsylvanians, like a lot of working people, he knows what it’s like to get knocked down, and then get back up. John’s stroke did not change who he is. It didn’t change what he cares about. It didn’t change his values, his heart, his fight. It doesn’t change who he will represent when he gets to the United States Senate.”

An estimated 7,500 people watched as these organizers, politicians, and activists spoke. The crowd was made up of diverse ages, genders, and races. The atmosphere was positive, and conversations were buzzing in the waiting periods. Many attendees relayed that the issues most important to them in this election are democracy, abortion access, healthcare access, and climate change. Several members of the crowd were organizers or election volunteers themselves.

Among the crowd was a couple who traveled from Wilkes-Barre to attend the rally. Karen and Joseph Baranoski have been working with Action Together NEPA since it was formed in the wake of President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. Karen writes letters to the editor for the Citizen’s Voice and is focusing her energy on phone banking for democratic candidates in Pennsylvania. She estimates she has made more than 300 phone calls this week and sent over 300 post cards during this election cycle. Karen expressed concern about the democratic voters in red counties that she has spoken with this week. Though she has heard some uneasiness about safety at the polls, she is hopeful voter turnout will be strong. Both she and Joseph are eager to see what happens this week at the polls.

The next few days will be critical for all the campaigns across Pennsylvania. Voters will see a deluge of advertising, canvasing, and messaging before they head to the polls Tuesday. Though the results will likely not be known on election night, anticipation and excitement is already present.