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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders approaches the stage at Kerrytown Market in Ann Arbor on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. Twenty-five people were permitted inside the socially-distanced rally, while a larger group gathered on the sidewalk outside.

Election 2020

John Padora, the Democrat running a longshot campaign against state Rep. Mindy Fee in Lancaster County’s 37th House District, earned an endorsement from one of the country’s most popular Democratic figures.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Padora, earning him a stamp of approval from one of the nation’s leading voices of progressive politics. The endorsement could help Padora tap the volunteer and fundraising networks of Sanders and other politicians on the far left of the political spectrum.

Padora, 31, is one of 11 Democratic candidates for state office in Pennsylvania who were endorsed by the former presidential candidate. Other candidates endorsed by Sanders include current Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, who are all part of the Democratic Socialists of America.

“Bernie is a champion for the working class, he believes in racial and social justice,” Padora said. “I’m proud to know he recognizes my campaign.”

Padora faces an uphill fight to unseat Fee. The district includes some of the most rural parts of northern Lancaster County, and approximately two thirds of its registered voters are Republicans.

This endorsement could allow his opponent to label Padora as a socialist, which could be detrimental to him in a district where he’d need to win a significant number of Republican voters, said G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. 

“I would think that the voters who would vote for the Democrat would vote for him with or without Bernie’s endorsement,” Madonna said.

Fee, 55,  has represented the district since 2013. Prior to taking office, Fee was a furniture wholesaler. Her husband Tom Fee was the Manheim Borough mayor and local magisterial district judge prior to his death in 2011.

During her latest term, Fee introduced bills to exempt animal production buildings from the state’s sales and use tax, as well as bipartisan legislation to allow public schools to outsource dentists for dental screenings.

Padora says his top issues are confronting the opioid epidemic and climate change. He is in recovery from substance use disorder and once spent two months in county prison for heroin possession. He now works as a manufacturing engineer.

Padora also attracted the endorsement of the Lancaster County Libertarian Party in June. He said this shows he is an “effective coalition builder” and that he’s reaching out to independent and Republican voters in the district.