Democratic U.S. Senate candidates find common target at Muhlenberg College debate

Written by on April 3, 2022

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates find common target at Muhlenberg College debate

By Hayden Mitman
April 3, 2022

Democratic candidates for one of the most hotly watched races in the nation were in the Lehigh Valley for a debate Sunday ahead of the May 17 primary election. 

But, they spent a significant amount of time attacking a man who wasn’t there. 

Listen to the story.

Only two of the four Democrats seeking to fill Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat attended the debate at Muhlenberg College – U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia.

They mostly agreed on a variety of national issues including dealing with inflation and the war in Ukraine. 

But a frequent target was the elephant in the room — the candidate not in the room – Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who declined to attend. Lamb was the first to attack.  

“I’m going to talk about the differences between me and John Fetterman. He didn’t respect you enough to show up today,” Lamb said to the invitation-only audience. The debate was broadcast live on PCN.

Both candidates brought up a 2013 incident in which Fetterman, then mayor of Braddock, Pa., confronted a Black man with a shotgun in his neighborhood. Kenyatta, who is Black, said Fetterman took the law into his own hands.  

“He was dead wrong and now, he refuses to come here but expects you to vote for him,” Kenyatta said.

The pair also sparred on Lamb’s voting record. Kenyatta brought up his support of Trump-era legislation. 

“You’ve cut a very conservative record in Congress,” he said, “including voting for funding for Trump’s border wall. In fact, in your first term in office, you voted with Trump 70 percent of the time.” 

Lamb countered that the claim was inaccurate.

“That is not a true number,” he said. “And the way you can know that without taking my word for it – actually listen to the specific votes they actually bring up. He will bring up two, maybe three votes. I’ve cast thousands of votes over the past four years.” 

Though there was a lectern for Fetterman, his campaign said three days ago that he would not attend and instead participate in a campaign event in Chambersburg, Pa. 

Democratic candidate Dr. Kevin Baumlin dropped out of the U.S. Senate race last week. And Alexandria Khalil, the only woman in the race, was not invited to participate. Organizers said they only invited front-running candidates. 

The candidates are vying to fill the seat that will be left open by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who decided not to seek re-election. Several candidates are also running on the Republican ticket, including David McCormick and Dr. Mehmet Oz. The primary winners will square off in the general election in the fall.

Sunday’s Democratic candidates’ debate was organized by City & State PA, Pennsylvania Kitchen Table Politics, the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the student-run Muhlenberg College Democrats. 

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