Underdog GOP candidates for Pa.’s U.S. Senate seat meet for 2nd debate this week

Written by on April 27, 2022

Underdog GOP candidates for Pa.’s U.S. Senate seat meet for 2nd debate this week

By Sam Dunklau / WITF
April 27, 2022

Political jabs filled the room Tuesday night as Republican candidates for U.S. Senate made their cases to primary voters.

Five of the seven running for the GOP nod took potshots at each other, the moderators and at those who didn’t show up — celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz and businessman David McCormick. The debate was held at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.

Though he argued with moderators a few times, Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto took issue with his opponents and the tenor of the debate.

“This kind of bickering and back-and-forth and personal attacks is counterproductive,” he said. “It’s also beneath the level of the office that we are running for.”

Policy-wise, the candidates did not seem far apart. All support keeping taxes low, reducing gun regulation, and limiting abortion access.

But businessman Jeff Bartos of Montgomery County was the only candidate to say he’d do what outgoing U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey did on Jan. 6 of last year.

“Yes, I would vote to certify (Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results),” he said. “If I were in the Senate I would have voted to certify the 2020 election.”

Some Republicans voted to not certify those results, despite no evidence calling them into question.

When asked, veteran and political commentator Kathy Barnette was the first to say she admires a living Democrat.

“I admire Joe Manchin, and as your senator, I will look for the Joe Manchins in the room,” she said.

Carla Sands, who was the U.S. ambassador to Denmark under former President Donald Trump, says that job prepared her for Senate foreign policy work better than anyone.

“There’s no one else in this race on either side of the aisle, ready on Day One, to defend our country against Russia and China, our foreign adversaries, that understands how to do that,” she said.

Attorney Sean Gale went after his own party for not pushing hard enough to build a wall at the nation’s Southern border.

“I blame Republicans who promised us border security, and when we gave them the majorities to do it and a president who was more than willing to do it, they failed to get it done,” Gale said.

The primary election is May 17. The winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries will square off in the November general election. The winner will take the seat of Toomey, R-Pa., who decided not to seek re-election.

Tuesday night’s debate was the second this week among Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. Five of the seven vying for the GOP nomination debated Monday night.

Another topic Tuesday night was elections. The Republican candidates all say enhancing voter ID rules is key to keeping U.S. elections free and fair.

Pennsylvanians already have to show a government-issued ID or Social Security number when they register to vote. Most of the seven GOP candidates suggest rules should be more strict.

Barnette said voters should have to show ID when they arrive at the polling place.

“I believe voter ID should be mandatory,” she said. “I believe one day, we vote. That’s it.”

Sands and others were critical of no-excuse mail-in voting. She voted that way in 2020 when she was ambassador.

“Unless they’re unwell and need to vote absentee, they should vote in-person on Election Day,” she said. “It’s a great way to stop fraud.”

Pennsylvanians were able to vote by mail without an excuse in the last two elections. Despite numerous court challenges and accusations, there has been no evidence of widespread fraud.

But lawyer Sean Gale said in an email that he’d vote to ban no-excuse mail-in voting as a U.S senator.

Bartos took a different approach.

“I support voter ID, but I don’t believe the United States Senate or the Congress should be interfering in the election laws of the states,” Bartos said.

Bochetto says he also supports expanding voter ID rules. But he says he’d also back a Democratic bill that re-requires states with histories of voter suppression to pre-clear their voting rules with federal lawmakers.

“I support having a uniform national rule, at least at a baseline of what some of the fundamental requirements ought to be,” he said.

Oz said during a different debate he will not let claims about the 2020 election go, but did not give his stance on voter ID. McCormick says a stricter voter ID rule is the “most important” change lawmakers can make.

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