Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) may be a progressive Democrat, but he said it would be a mistake to count Donald Trump out in the Keystone State. And he points to Trump’s handling of fellow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) as proof.

“There’s no way Ron DeSantis could win Pennsylvania,” Fetterman told reporters during a rare interview in his Washington office. “Watching DeSantis turn into [former Wisconsin Gov. and 2016 GOP presidential candidate] Scott Walker and get liquidated by Trump’s machine, I respect Trump in terms of how formidable he would be in Pennsylvania.

“You still see Trump signs everywhere in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman added, “and you have to respect Trump’s strength.”

Fetterman suffered a debilitating stroke during the 2022 U.S. Senate campaign but won the seat over Republican TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz. Soon after taking office, he spent weeks in a hospital being treated for depression and is still unable to communicate without special help. He conducted Monday’s interview via iPad-transcribed comments, HuffPost reported.

Fetterman’s politics align with the populist progressive wing of his party, which overlaps with part of the Trump blue-collar base. While he said he doesn’t believe Trump can beat President Joe Biden in Pennsylvania, “it going to be closer” – assuming it’s a Biden-Trump rematch.

Biden defeated the incumbent Republican by just 1.2 percent, or 80,555 votes out of more than 7 million cast.

A recent Delaware Valley Journal/Coefficient poll of the solidly-blue Philadelphia suburbs (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties) found that Biden’s approval was 43-47 percent underwater. Just 33 percent of the voters in the Democratic haven want Biden to run again.

And while Biden leads Trump 50-39 percent, he won the four counties with 60 percent of the vote in 2020. Political experts say he would need that margin to carry the state in 2024.

Could Trump, who stunned the political world by winning Pennsylvania in 2016, win again in 2024? Or would other Republicans have a better shot in the Keystone State?

“I think Tim Scott would be a very strong general election candidate,” said public affairs executive Larry Ceisler, who also promoted the candidacies of Nikki Haley and Chris Christie. “To me, they only have two unelectable candidates, and that’s Trump and DeSantis.”

Ceisler has previously said the Philly suburbs poll numbers show Republicans should make next year’s election “a referendum on President Biden” instead of a binary choice.

That is an opinion shared by longtime Republican political consultant Christopher Nicholas. He thinks Biden’s performance as president is hurting him with voters. But he’s not ready to call Trump the reincarnation of Grover Cleveland (the only U.S. President to win two non-consecutive terms).

“If it comes down to that binary choice that so many Republicans and Democrats don’t want, I just don’t see how Trump can find new voters who haven’t voted for him in the past and turn them into his voters today. It’s much easier to see how Biden can consolidate his 80,000-vote victory and create more Biden voters,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas and Ceisler disagree on whether Fetterman’s comments are part of a strategy by Democrats to make sure the weakest Republican is on the ballot.

“Absolutely,” chuckled Nicholas. “There are no bigger Trump fans than Democrats because they know it makes it more difficult for Republicans. Remember, too; we have an open seat for attorney general and incumbent Republican auditor general and treasurer we want to get re-elected.”

Ceisler sees it more as Fetterman hoping to remind Democrats that they need to go to the polls.

“I think it’s Sen. Fetterman’s way of saying, ‘This isn’t going to be easy. We have to start working now,’” explained Ceisler, who believes there has been no real change to the electorate since the 2020 election. “I don’t find those comments surprising at all.”

He compared it to people living in a bubble and wanting to ensure Democrats cast ballots in 2024. “Biden voters think, ‘How could Trump win the state again?’ just like the Trump voters can’t believe that Biden won the state or could win the state again.”

Charlotte Valyo, Chester County Democratic Committee Chair, doesn’t agree with Fetterman that Biden-Trump II would be a closer contest. “I can only speak for Chester County, and voters in Chester County are supporting Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.”

Trump supporters hope Fetterman’s conclusion is a warning for the future.

“John Fetterman is right about one thing: a Trump-Biden rematch will be closer than the first race,” quipped Charlie Gerow, Quantum Communications CEO and longtime Republican strategist. “That’s another way of saying that Donald Trump will carry Pennsylvania against Biden just as he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016.”