All 4 Democratic U.S. Senate candidates for Pa. spar on debate stage

Written by on April 26, 2022

All 4 Democratic U.S. Senate candidates for Pa. spar on debate stage

By Sam Dunklau / WITF
April 26, 2022

The four Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania agree on a lot.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, Jenkintown Councilwoman Alexandria Khalil and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb participated in a debate Monday night at Dickinson College in Carlisle.

All said they support sending Ukraine humanitarian and military aid rather than U.S. troops, they want to boost abortion rights, and eliminate the Senate’s filibuster rule.

But candidates also tried to drive home what makes them different.

“Running for the U.S. Senate here is a statewide affair, and I’m the only candidate on the Democratic or Republican side that has run and won statewide here in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said.

Lamb, of suburban Pittsburgh, shot back by touting his experience working on health care and education bills in Congress.

“With me, you wouldn’t be hiring a twitter account,” he said. “I’ve gotten results on every single one of those items mentioned in the House of Representatives and all I’m looking to do is accomplish the same thing in the United State Senate.”

Kenyatta and Khalil tried to use nuance to stand out. When asked if he rejects efforts by some to defund police departments, Kenyatta attacked the question:

“I sort of reject this notion, particularly as a Black man in this country, that the only two options I have is to have no police or to have police who aren’t held accountable when they do something they should not do,” said Kenyatta, of Philadelphia.

Khalil, meanwhile, supports access to abortion but says that has to come with better access to prenatal and postnatal health care. She says her mother carried a child to term even after doctors recommended she have an abortion.

“Think about what would have happened to my mom,” she said. “You know, she had a choice: she could have said yes. If she didn’t have it and she didn’t get the care, she would have died.”

A Franklin and Marshall College poll shows almost half of a group of 356 primary voters haven’t made up their minds on the candidate they’ll support. The primary election is May 17. The winner of the Democratic primary will face the Republican nominee. Five of the GOP candidates also debated Monday.

The winner in the general election will take over for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who decided not to seek re-election.

At Dickinson College on Monday night, all four Democrats said they would work to prop up the country’s democratic institutions if elected.

Kenyatta touts an eight point plan, which includes passing a bill that would re-require the federal government to approve voting law changes in states that have suppressed voters of color. Some Republicans argue it’s unconstitutional for Congress to control how states run their elections, which Kenyatta rejects.

“We need to go as far as the Constitution allows us to go, and it allows us to set a floor that states have to follow,” he said.

Lamb says he’s backed bills like that, including the Freedom to Vote Act, which he argues is full of good ideas.

“You’re talking about Election Day as a national holiday, automatic voter registration, lots of money to stop election subversion by foreign actors, domestic actors,” Lamb said.

Fetterman argues social media companies shoulder much of the blame for allowing false election fraud claims about the 2020 election to spread.

We as a society have to adopt appropriate legislation to make sure that we are not in a position where we allow misinformation, the viral unchecked spread of misinformation, to destabilize our democracy,” he said.

Khalil says the best defense for democracy lies in strengthening Pennsylvania’s local press corps.

“The reason why local media dies is because people don’t buy it is and also because they’re swallowed up by big conglomerates,” she said. “So I would sit back and do what I can toward antitrust, to make sure they’re not buying up all local media. So yeah, there’s a lot we can do.”

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