John Fetterman Enlists Local Sheriff For TV Ad Rebutting Soft-On-Crime Charge

Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman has enlisted help from a suburban Philadelphia sheriff in a new television advertisement defending decisions he made as head of the state’s board of pardons.

The 30-second TV spot features Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny and is designed to rebut charges from Fetterman’s Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, that Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, endangered Pennsylvanians by going easy on convicted criminals.

“Here’s the truth: John gave a second chance to those who deserved it ― nonviolent offenders, marijuana users,” a uniformed Kilkenny says directly to the camera. “He voted with law enforcement experts nearly 90% of the time. He reunited families and protected our freedom ― and he saved taxpayer money.”

“John Fetterman has the courage to do what’s right,” added Kilkenny, who also introduces himself as a military veteran. “Dr. Oz doesn’t know a thing about crime. He only knows how to help himself.”

The ad is not Fetterman’s first TV spot refuting Republican charges that his conduct as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor endangered residents.

Previous Fetterman TV spots have emphasized the work he did to reduce violent crime in Braddock, a steel town in southwestern Pennsylvania where Fetterman was mayor from 2006 to 2018. In one ad, Fetterman notes that he decided to run for mayor because two of his students were murdered and that once be became mayor, he presided over a five-year period without any murders.

But the TV ad with Kilkenny, due to circulate first in the Pittsburgh and Scranton media markets, is Fetterman’s debut spot with a law enforcement official attesting to his public safety credentials. Other Democrats who have featured law enforcement officials in their ads have had success pushing back on GOP attacks.

Tapping Kilkenny, a Democrat who has endorsed Fetterman, to appear in the spot is deliberate. Fetterman and Oz are competing heatedly for votes in Montgomery County and other populous suburban strongholds in the Philadelphia area.

Unlike other progressive Democrats, Fetterman has not advocated for eliminating cash bail or called for “defunding” the police. But as chair of the board of pardons since 2019, Fetterman indeed made a larger number of recommendations for pardons and commutations than his immediate predecessors.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) speaks in Philadelphia on Saturday. The tattoos on his left arm mark the dates of nine violent deaths that took place in Braddock during his mayoralty. He says he is proud of also presiding over a five-year period without any murders.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) speaks in Philadelphia on Saturday. The tattoos on his left arm mark the dates of nine violent deaths that took place in Braddock during his mayoralty. He says he is proud of also presiding over a five-year period without any murders.

Ryan Collerd/Associated Press

Oz and his Republican allies have zeroed in on Fetterman’s support for changing a Pennsylvania law that mandates a life sentence in prison for people convicted of “felony murder.” That charge currently applies to people who did not directly commit a murder but participated in an action that resulted in someone’s murder.

A recent TV ad funded by the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), repeatedly plays a video clip of Fetterman calling for “eliminating the felony murder law.” The ad makes it sound as if Fetterman is lenient in his approach to prosecuting murder cases.

But as PolitiFact has noted, opposing mandatory life sentences for people who were often, at worst, accomplices to murder and sometimes played an even more modest role does not amount to being lenient about murder itself.

Fetterman has cited the case of two Philadelphia brothers, Lee and Dennis “Freedom” Horton, who served 27 years in prison for providing a ride to a friend who had committed a murder ― unknowingly to them, they say ― as an example of the kinds of injustices he was trying to correct. Fetterman successfully recommended the Horton brothers’ commutation, and they now serve as organizers on his Senate campaign.

One challenge for Fetterman, however, is that Republican outside groups like the Senate Leadership Fund have been outspending their Democratic counterparts in recent weeks.

Every week this month, the SLF has spent at least $3.1 million on TV ads in Pennsylvania, according to ad purchasing data obtained by HuffPost. By contrast, the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC affiliated with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), has slowly ramped up to $2 million a week and is slated to spend about $2.6 million starting Tuesday.