Flip-flop: Heading into midterms, Dem candidates scramble to walk back far-left positions

From Pennsylvania to Arizona, Democrats running for office are adopting more moderate platforms and keeping left-wing policies they supported at arm's length.

Updated: September 21, 2022 - 11:03pm

With the midterm elections just seven weeks away, Democrats running for office in high-profile races nationwide are walking back many of the progressive positions they once embraced in an effort to make their candidacies palatable to more moderate general election voters.

Most recently, the campaign for Pennsylvania Democrat Senate nominee John Fetterman walked back his apparent call to release all second-degree murderers with life sentences from Pennsylvania's prisons.

In 2019, Fetterman, the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor and chairman of the state's Board of Pardons, had two reports commissioned about the 1,166 people in the Keystone State serving life without parole for second-degree murder.

"I hope that it could lead to a conversation that would free close to 1,200 people of a legacy that never made sense," he said during a press conference about the reports in March 2021.

Two months later, Fetterman said freeing second-degree murderers serving life sentences would provide "massive" savings for taxpayers, adding mercy "must be a partner to justice" and is meant for the "deserving and rehabilitated."

Fetterman previously called to end life sentences for individuals who were found guilty of second-degree murder but did not "pull the trigger."

On Tuesday, however, a spokesperson for Fetterman's campaign told Fox News that his comments "are being taken out of context" and that the nominee does not support freeing all convicts serving life without parole for second-degree murder.

Fetterman's campaign said the candidate "supports common sense criminal justice reforms that keep Pennsylvanians safe and protected while saving taxpayers money" and thinks there are some convicted second-degree murderers who should remain incarcerated.

Beyond crime and punishment, Fetterman has also flip-flopped on fracking.

In 2016, Fetterman signed a pledge to ban fracking in Pennsylvania and halt new fossil fuel leasing nationwide. He also wrote on Reddit that the fossil fuel industry is a "stain" on Pennsylvania and its natural resources.

However, Fetterman has switched his position and now wants to preserve the union jobs in the fossil fuel industry, according to his campaign.

"John believes that we have to preserve the union way of life for the thousands of workers currently employed or supported by the fossil fuel industry in Pennsylvania and the communities where they live," Fetterman campaign spokesperson Joe Calvello told Fox News Digital. "We can't just abandon these people, and tell them to go learn how to code."

Calvello added: "John does not support a fracking moratorium or ban. In fact, throughout his career John has stood up to politicians to fight for U.S. Steel's right to build fracking wells."

Fetterman also said that "right now our energy security is paramount," apparently suggesting fossil fuels are necessary.

At the same time, Fetterman recently called climate change "an existential threat to our existence here on this planet" and pledged to be "at the tip of the spear" in the transition away from fossil fuels, revealing an effort by Fetterman to keep his progressive base motivated without alienating voters in a state reliant on the oil and gas industry.

In Arizona, Democrat gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs flipped her position on Title 42, the public health authority exercised by the Trump administration that permits border officials to expel migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum in order to limit the spread of COVD-19.

The Biden administration has repeatedly tried to lift Title 42, but its efforts have been blocked by a federal judge in Louisiana. Critics argue ending the health measure will only add to the ongoing crisis at the southern border, which has seen historically high levels of illegal immigration since President Biden entered office.

In early April, a local Arizona news station asked Hobbs if she supports Biden's efforts to lift the measure.

"Title 42 isn't working," Hobbs responded.

Just three weeks later, however, the candidate urged Biden to reverse his "rash decision" to end the policy, CNN reported. Hobbs added that lifting Title 42 "without a clear plan to secure our border would be a disaster," apparently reversing her position along with other swing-state Democrats.

A majority of Americans oppose lifting Title 42 and disapprove of Biden's handling of immigration, according to recent polling.

Moving to the Midwest, Wisconsin Democrat Senate nominee Mandela Barnes has come under fire for walking back a wide range of left-wing positions he's publicly endorsed, from abolishing immigration enforcement and defunding police to decrying the American founding and the American free market system.

One such position is apparent support for the movement to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for protecting the U.S. from cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

"Don't know how I missed this reply, but I need that," Barnes, the current lieutenant governor, tweeted in 2018 when an activist offered him a red "Abolish ICE" shirt in his size from the Democratic Socialists of America.

Soon afterward, a photo appeared on Reddit of Barnes holding an "Abolish ICE" shirt and posing for a picture. The photo has also circulated on Twitter.

Barnes has also expressed support for illegal immigrants receiving driver's licenses and in-state college tuition.

This year, however, Barnes has made a concerted effort to distance himself from a far-left immigration agenda.

"I am not a part of the Abolish ICE movement because no one slogan can capture all the work we have to do," he said in a statement earlier this year. "But I do support comprehensive reform in our immigration agencies that protect our borders while establishing a pathway to citizenship and ensuring no one coming to this country has to experience traumas like family separation."

His campaign has subsequently echoed the same message, explicitly distancing Barnes from the Abolish ICE movement.

More broadly, Barnes has a history of expressing far-left, controversial ideas beyond immigration.

For example, he has described the founding of America as "awful" and said "national parks weren't made for the enjoyment of people who weren't white" because they're "on land that was indigenous."

Barnes has also argued one of the answers to the country's problems is to "stymie capitalism, the way it is in America" and called for "making this the most progressive Democratic caucus in history."

Explaining why he wouldn't bother trying to sway "middle of the road Republicans," Barnes said: "We don't have the time to spin our wheels with people who have denied climate change, people who have denied the impact of this virus, or people who have denied the election was legitimate. That will be a losing strategy for us."

But as he has with immigration, Barnes has distanced himself from prominent progressives and some of their more contentious ideas across the board, deploying "a careful strategy of downplaying some associations with the liberal wing of his party," to quote the Washington Post.

Nowhere is this strategy more evident than with crime and policing. Barnes has previously defended defunding "over-bloated" police departments and allocating those funds for other purposes as mainstream, arguing "police don't prevent crimes from happening."

Barnes also indicated support for eliminating cash bail for low-level crimes and cutting the prison population in half, describing criminal justice reform and reducing prison populations as now being "sexy."

Earlier this year, however, Barnes walked back some of his past comments.

"I don't support defunding the police," he said in a statement. "We can help prevent crime by investing in schools, good-paying jobs, and opportunities for every individual to work hard and see success — and we should do that across Wisconsin."

Barnes' campaign has also tried to dismiss the fact that groups supportive of defunding the police endorsed him, noting, "These groups are endorsing the lieutenant governor, not the other way around."

Nonetheless, Republicans have been hammering Barnes in recent ads for his record on crime.

Just the News has previously reported on how liberal cities that became hubs of the "defund the police" movement in the wake of the infamous 2020 killing of George Floyd have done a virtual 180, with many local Democrat officials and candidates now embracing comparatively pro-police and tough-on-crime policies and rhetoric after their push to cut police budgets backfired as crime surged nationwide.

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