Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the front-runner in the state’s Democratic Senate primary, is being targeted by a rival over an incident in 2013 in which he pulled a shotgun on a Black jogger whom he suspected of a crime.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, who is Black and is trailing in the Democratic primary race, released internal polling this week showing that Mr. Fetterman’s 24-point lead evaporates when voters are told about the gun-brandishing episode.
The racist overtones of Mr. Fetterman’s actions eight years ago haven’t soured Pennsylvania Democrats on his Senate run.
Still, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the polling “shows how fragile support for Fetterman truly is in the state.”
“John Fetterman cannot outrun his checkered past with Pennsylvanian voters,” said NRSC spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow. “They are clearly rejecting Fetterman when they are reminded of the 2013 incident when he pulled a gun on an unarmed Black jogger. If Kenyatta, who is a long-shot candidate, can tie Fetterman after voters are reminded of this incident, then he should definitely be worried come 2022.”
Mr. Fetterman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. He is running to replace Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican whose retirement has raised Democrats’ hopes of holding on to their party’s slim majority in the Senate.
Also in the Democratic field is Rep. Conor Lamb, a moderate who insiders say could be the true beneficiary if Mr. Kenyatta’s attacks weaken Mr. Fetterman. He has been running just behind Mr. Kenyatta for second place in polling.
Mr. Kenyatta, the first openly gay Black man elected to Pennsylvania’s legislature, frequently served as a Biden surrogate in the 2020 presidential election. He is trailing several of his Senate rivals in fundraising.
He told The Philadelphia Inquirer this week that he is “a solid second place” in the Democratic primary.
“All these people who have written off our campaign have been wrong,” Mr. Kenyatta said. “This campaign is in it to the end.”
Among the Republican Senate candidates is Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Emmy-winning TV host better known as Dr. Oz. He entered the race this month after Trump-endorsed contender Sean Parnell suspended his campaign.
Mr. Fetterman previously addressed the incident with the jogger. It occurred when he was mayor of Braddock, a steel mill town in western Pennsylvania.
According to a police report of the encounter, Mr. Fetterman used his 20-gauge shotgun to stop and detain an unarmed Black jogger after hearing about a dozen “assault rifle” shots fired near his home. When he saw the man running, he chased him in his pickup truck and pulled the shotgun from under the seat.
“Fetterman continued to yell and state that he knows this male was shooting,” the police report said.
Police searched the man, Christopher Miyares, then 28, but found no weapons. He was released, and no charges were brought against Mr. Fetterman.
Mr. Miyares told a local TV station that Mr. Fetterman “aimed [the shotgun] at my chest.” Mr. Fetterman denied pointing the gun at him and said he didn’t know the man was Black because he was bundled up for winter weather.
“I believe I did the right thing,” Mr. Fetterman told WTAE-TV at the time. “But I may have broken the law in the course of it. I’m certainly not above the law.”
In a statement earlier this year, Mr. Fetterman said he was concerned about the possibility of a school shooting when he stopped the jogger.
“This was a few weeks after the Sandy Hook child massacre [in Connecticut]. I realized I could never forgive myself if I didn’t do anything,” he said.
Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates, aired radio ads on Black stations this year in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to assail Mr. Fetterman about the incident.
“What gave John Fetterman the right?” the narrator asked. “It’s time for us to finally hold John Fetterman accountable.”
Mr. Fetterman has said he has won elections since the incident and has had the support of Black voters.
Anna Greenberg of GQR Research, the pollster for Mr. Kenyatta, said in a post on Twitter that her survey shows there is a “real path” for Mr. Kenyatta to win the Democratic primary, presumably if voters are informed about Mr. Fetterman’s encounter with the jogger.
The damaging polling question about Mr. Fetterman stated: “While Mayor of Braddock, Fetterman chased an unarmed Black jogger in his pickup truck and held him with an illegally loaded shotgun pointed at his chest until the police arrived because he mistook the sounds of fireworks for gunfire. Even after police determined the jogger had done nothing wrong, Fetterman refused to apologize and maintained that he would do it all again. To this day, Fetterman still blames the jogger’s attire to justify his actions.”
The survey told voters that Mr. Lamb voted “nearly 70% of the time in line with Trump and Republicans.”
“Lamb opposed a carbon tax, supported stricter immigration laws, and supported Trump’s massive tax break for wealthy people that threatens Social Security and Medicare,” the survey stated. “Lamb also opposed an assault weapon ban, voted in favor of funding Trump’s border wall, and to extend the ongoing war in Iraq.”
Liberals are concerned that Mr. Lamb, whom they compare to Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, will end up with the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington.