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John Fetterman
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

John Fetterman Is Splitting Florida Democrats

“I absolutely celebrate the diversity of thoughts and beliefs within our party,” Fetterman said in response to the backlash to his scheduled keynote in the state.

Sen. John Fetterman is scheduled to give a keynote address for Florida Democrats’ annual fundraiser this weekend. The state party’s progressives are trying to stop that from happening.

“Florida Democrats are thrilled to welcome Senator Fetterman to the Sunshine State,” party Chair Nikki Fried wrote in an announcement Tuesday.

A caucus of progressives statewide expressed “concern and disappointment” with the decision and are circulating a petition calling on Fried to cancel the Pennsylvania senator’s speech.

“Fetterman’s association with Republican donors and adoption of inflammatory rhetoric further underscore his abandonment of progressive principles,” the petition reads, citing Fetterman’s staunch support of Israel’s war in Gaza. “His actions have marginalized Muslim, Haitian, progressive, and Jewish pro-peace communities within our party, eroding the very foundations of inclusivity and justice,” the petition reads.

This week, Fetterman called student protests against the war in Gaza a “pup tent for Hamas.” His unconditional support for Israel has gained him praise from Republicans. Asked about the petition to cancel his keynote, Fetterman told NOTUS, “I absolutely celebrate the diversity of thoughts and beliefs within our party.”

His office said his talking points for Saturday include abortion access and “the high stakes of the 2024 election.” He was also scheduled to give the keynote address at Idaho Democrats’ annual gala in February but missed it because of votes on a spending bill.

“It’s absolutely OK to disagree on some issues,” Fetterman said. “I hope the progressives change their minds to come because we need to be unified.”

Tickets to the Leadership Blue keynote gala require at least a $300 donation to the Florida Democratic Party. The party raised half a million dollars at the event last year, which was headlined by actor Bradley Whitford. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker headlined in 2022. Progressive Caucus members have historically held their own free or low-cost events during Leadership Blue.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, another vigorous supporter of Israel, capitalized on the division within the state party for his own Senate race, saying the petition “shows how insane the left has gone.”

Scott’s Democratic challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is attending Leadership Blue, said she was “glad to have John Fetterman come to Florida and support our fight for freedom from extremists like Rick Scott” in a statement to NOTUS.

The Florida Democratic Party did not respond to NOTUS’ request for comment on the petition at the time of publishing. The Progressive caucus said they had not received a response to their petition as of Friday morning.

Fried told NOTUS Wednesday, as Florida’s six-week abortion ban took effect, “Democrats are more united now than we ever have been, and that has been consistent over the last year.”

At least for some members on the left of the party, the claim of unity fell flat.

Carolina Ampudia, president of the Broward County Progressive Caucus of Florida chapter, said the Florida Democratic Party “sees us as radicals like we’re trying to destroy the party when the only thing that we are asking is that the party lives up to its values.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated who was circulating the petition over Fetterman. It was progressives within the state Democratic Party.

Claire Heddles and John T. Seward are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute fellows.