'We have to flip this seat': After Senate primary win, John Fetterman shifts focus to beating GOP
John Fetterman pictured in 2019.. - TIM TAI/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman handily defeated Rep. Conor Lamb in the Democratic primary for the battleground state's open U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday, pitting the progressive against whichever right-wing candidate prevails in the deadlocked GOP contest between Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick.

"We're going to win in November the same way we won tonight—by fighting for every county, and every vote."

In a statement following his 33-point victory over Lamb, whose campaign was endorsed by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and bankrolled by Wall Street financiers, Fetterman thanked his supporters for sticking with him, particularly after he suffered a stroke just days before the election.

"The fact that so many of you entrusted me with your vote means the world to me, and it's something I'll never take for granted," said Fetterman, who underwent successful pacemaker implant surgery on Tuesday. "I'm feeling better every day, and I'm going to be back on the campaign trail to thank you all in person soon."

Fetterman—who has vowed to be a decisive Senate vote in favor of abortion rights, pro-labor legislation, and abolishing the filibuster—went on to emphasize the stakes of the upcoming contest between him and the Republican nominee, a race that will determine who fills the seat left open by Sen. Pat Toomey's (R-Pa.) retirement.

The winner, Fetterman noted, could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.

"This is the most important race in the country," he declared. "Control of the Senate is going to come down to Pennsylvania, and we have to flip this seat. We have a hard fight ahead of us—but Pennsylvania is worth fighting for. We're going to win in November the same way we won tonight—by fighting for every county, and every vote. Because every place matters, and no place deserves to be written off."

Conceding defeat, Lamb promised to do "everything I can to help Democrats win" in the general election.

"Our entire democracy is on the line in November," said Lamb. "Democrats need to be unequivocally united in our defense of this democracy, and we will be. John's vote in the Senate is essential to protect this democracy, and he will have my vote in November."

President Joe Biden, who stayed on the sidelines in the closely watched Pennsylvania race, said in a statement that Democrats "are united around John, who is a strong nominee, will run a tough race, and can win in November."

Meanwhile, the GOP primary race between Dr. Oz—a television personality widely viewed as a crank and a peddler of dangerous misinformation—and McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, is likely headed for a recount as the latest tally showed Oz leading by just 0.2 percentage points with 94% of the vote counted.

Kathy Barnette, a far-right GOP candidate with a long history of bigoted rhetoric against Muslims and gay people, surged in the final weeks of the Senate campaign but ultimately fell behind Oz and McCormick, ending up with just under 25% of the vote.

"John is the perfect candidate for 2022—regardless of who the Republicans nominate tonight."

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Dr. Oz in the race, claiming that "people love him, otherwise he wouldn't have been on air for 18 years."

Fetterman's small-donor-funded campaign said late Tuesday that no matter who emerges as the Republican nominee, the lieutenant governor and former Braddock mayor is well-positioned to win in November.

"In a tough midterm election in which traditional Democrats are going to struggle, John doesn't have to convince people he’s not like other Democrats or other politicians—they can see it for themselves," the campaign said in a statement. "John is the perfect candidate for 2022—regardless of who the Republicans nominate tonight."

"To win in 2022, Democrats will have to do things differently," Fetterman's team added. "It won't just come down to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Margins in rural areas will matter. Democrats will have to focus on turning out voters across the state—in rural towns and cities."

Speaking at an election-night rally as the Democratic nominee continued his recovery in the hospital, Fetterman's wife Gisele told supporters that the November contest is "a race for the future of every community across Pennsylvania."

"For every small town, for every person who calls those small towns home, and for every person who's considered leaving because they didn't see enough opportunities," she added. "It's a race for a better Pennsylvania and for a better country."