It is possible, even likely, that Senator-elect John Fetterman (D-PA) will end up being the only person to flip a Senate seat in the recent election (only the Georgia runoff can change that fact now). So naturally there is a lot of interest in how he did it.
The story starts in 2016, when Fetterman ran for the Senate and came in third in the Democratic primary behind Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak. McGinty went on to lose the general election to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Fetterman took his loss in stride and talked to former governor and then-powerhouse Ed Rendell about how he could help Hillary Clinton win Pennsylvania. He asked for $100,000 to pay for a car and driver and hotel bills and he said he would campaign all over the state. Rendell quickly agreed and begged the Clinton campaign for the money. The Clinton camp refused and Clinton lost the state.
The lesson that Fetterman took away from that was that to win, campaigning in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh wasn't enough. You also had to campaign in the Kentucky part of Pennsyltucky, in the middle of the state. Fetterman did precisely that this time and won. His "go anywhere" strategy focused not so much on winning rural counties, but cutting his losses. It worked, he outperformed Clinton all over the state. It turns out, losing by a little bit is much better than losing by a lot in rural areas. T.J. Rooney, a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said: "You combine his reduction of the margins and his work in the collar counties... It was a combination of those two things that makes the difference." In case you are wondering, the collar counties of Pennyslvania are Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware Counties, which border Philadelphia and are historically purple.
This could apply to other states as well. Democrats normally just go to the big cities and their suburbs and try to turn out their base. Fetterman went into red areas and tried to stem his losses there, which he did successfully. The message that Democrats could bring to rural areas would be about economic issues, like curbing the power of (quasi-) monopolies in the agricultural sector, bringing broadband Internet to rural areas, and more. There are plenty of issues where people in rural areas actually agree with the Democrats, but if no one shows up to explain that, they all vote just on immigration and gay rights.
Another thing going for Fetterman is his authenticity. No one thought he was putting on an act, as so many politicians do. But going down that road requires nominating politicians who are authentic. Hillary Clinton is not authentic. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is authentic. Merely toeing the party line on the issues isn't enough. What Fetterman also did very well is define Mehmet Oz as a phony. But he had the luck that his Oz really is a phony. You can't count on that all the time. (V)