Last Monday’s debate among contenders for the Republican nomination for United States Senate in Pennsylvania was a great example of civil discourse among some of the leading candidates for the office. However, one cannot help but wonder why three of the top candidates passed on this opportunity to face one another in a televised event. In one of the few opportunities to test their platforms directly against their opponents, some candidates chose to take the night off while others showed up and answered the hard questions.
Jeff Bartos took note of the elephants not in the room by waving hello to Mehmet Oz, David McCormick, and Carla Sands, all of whom were invited and none of whom appeared on stage. Bartos, a Montgomery County businessman and the 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor, joined the discussion with attorney George Bochetto, commentator and military veteran Kathy Barnette, and businessman Everett Stern. The talk mostly centered on the importance of petrochemical jobs in Pennsylvania and the growing political and economic threat from China.
Jeff Bartos took note of the elephants not in the room by waving hello to Mehmet Oz, David McCormick, and Carla Sands.
This was a hugely important debate — possibly the last primary debate in a key race. The Senate is gridlocked and every seat will count in determining who holds a majority in the 118th Congress. Any senate race with a legitimate chance of being close can claim it is tremendously important (indeed, every single candidate in every single race throughout the country will say they are running to “tip the balance in the senate”). This race, above all, can claim to be even vital because Pennsylvania is a purple state and this seat is typically held by a moderate. This is one of the most up-for-grabs seats in an up-for-grabs senate, and the GOP must be deliberate about who they choose and how moderate they would like to remain.
Pennsylvania Republicans have an important decision before them.
It is noteworthy that the three candidates who skipped the debate — Oz, McCormick, and Sands — have all faced accusations of being carpetbaggers. Oz has long resided in New Jersey and only recently relocated to his wife’s parent’s house in Montgomery County. McCormick was born and raised here, but moved to Connecticut years ago to manage a hedge fund. Sands was likewise born and raised in the Keystone State, but has resided in California for years.
Given all that baggage, the decision to pass up an opportunity to talk directly to Pennsylvanians is all the more baffling — and frankly, disappointing. To be fair, Oz told the debate’s organizers (among them, Broad + Liberty) in advance that he wasn’t coming — he was in Pittsburgh at the time and was likely legitimately overbooked. McCormick, however, pulled out specifically in reaction to Oz’s absence and Sands followed suit. That left Bartos and Barnette as the only candidates present with more than a scintilla of support in the polls (Bochetto entered the race too recently to have any polling data one way or the other).
What better chance would they have to make their cases to the people, to stand up among their rivals and show that they have the best vision for Pennsylvania and for America? Ads are important, but winning campaigns need an air game and a ground game.
In the event, the voters got to hear a fair exchange of ideas from those candidates who did make the most of their opportunity. Speaking to Broad + Liberty after the debate, Barnette called for voters to pick a candidate who would be responsive to their needs. “We don’t need people who are so rich that they don’t even bother to show up at debates, because they think ‘I’m going to just sit in my penthouse, and spend my money, and buy this election.’”
Bochetto echoed that point. “This is part of campaigning,” he said after the debate, “and this is an important way to not only meet the other people but introduce who you are, let people see what kind of candidacy you have.”
Dodging the debate may feel like a power move to the campaigns and their out-of-state consultants, but to voters, it reads like the candidates are afraid to enter the arena and compete for the votes of the people they hope to represent. This debate showcased some of the leading candidates vying for the Republican nomination; we hope the next one (if there is a next one) will include all of them.
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