Two Pennsylvania Senate candidates become prime targets at events they didn’t attend

McCormick, the former hedge fund manager turned Senate candidate, skipped a Republican forum Saturday outside Harrisburg, leading opponents to attack his business connections in China and the fact that he recently lived in Connecticut. On Sunday, Fetterman skipped a Democratic primary debate in Allentown, leaving an empty lectern on the stage and allowing his two opponents, Rep. Conor Lamb and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, to attack the lieutenant governor’s fitness. in the Senate.

While the events opened up both McCormick and Fetterman to unanswered and pointed attacks, they also cemented the candidates at the top of their respective races just weeks before the May 17 primary. Pennsylvania’s race to replace retired Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is among the nation’s headline contests in November’s midterm elections and could represent the Democrats’ best chance at a GOP-held seat.
McCormick’s main attacker at the Republican forum was Mehmet Oz, the famed heart surgeon, who claimed at the conservative Pennsylvania leadership conference that scrutiny of McCormick’s ties to China was the reason he didn’t was not present.

“I think it was because he knew the subject of China was going to come up,” said George Bochetto, a Philadelphia attorney who is also a Senate candidate.

Businessman Jeff Bartos, another Republican candidate for the nomination, focused on the fact that McCormick until recently lived in Connecticut.

“Traffic to get from Connecticut to Harrisburg on a weekend is terrible, and I’m told Grade A jet fuel is also expensive,” Bartos joked.

Jess Szymanski, a spokesperson for McCormick, said the contestant was “unable to attend the Saturday forum due to scheduling reasons”, citing an event kicking off trout season in the center of Pennsylvania and other events in the Scranton area.

While McCormick has adopted his own tough rhetoric toward China and tried to use his experience as an advantage, comparing his trade record to former President Donald Trump, his opponents have made it their central attack on him. To date, the attacks have not knocked McCormick off his pedestal. Polls show him alongside Oz at the front of the GOP primary field, and McCormick’s personal wealth and backing of a super PAC heavily funded by hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, helped flood the airwaves. .

An empty desk

While Fetterman declined to attend Sunday’s Democratic debate, organizers – after repeatedly inviting him – did not remove his desk, allowing Lamb and Kenyatta to use the empty spot on the stage to make argue that the Lieutenant Governor cannot answer difficult questions.

Lamb said Fetterman’s decision not to attend showed he doesn’t “respect you enough to show up today”, while Kenyatta added: “If John can’t show up to talk to other Democrats of the importance of this race…who the hell really believes that John is going to be able to show up, stand up and fight for our values ​​in Washington?”

Then Kenyatta used the lectern as a prop, telling the audience that a contestant who gets attacked has 30 seconds to respond and that he wanted to give Fetterman – via his empty position – the chance.

Fetterman’s campaign announced on Friday that it would not participate on Sunday, pledging to attend three different debates later in April and May. The campaign’s main complaint was that Sunday’s contest was not televised in prime time.

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“While today’s debate was seen by very few voters, John has agreed to 3 debates which will be televised in all major media markets in the state because he is proud of his record and more than ready to talk about,” Joe Calvello, a spokesman for Fetterman, said after the contest.

Lamb and Kenyatta focused much of their attention on a 2013 incident in which Fetterman left his home, shotgun in tow, to confront what turned out to be an unarmed black jogger, after hearing the sound of gunfire in the area and called 911.

Fetterman addressed the incident, writing in a medium post shortly after announcing his Senate candidacy that he did not know the race or gender of the individual and never pointed his gun at them. He noted that the Sandy Hook massacre had taken place just over a month prior and said the jogger was heading to a local elementary school.
“The profiling and history of minority communities is a real thing,” Fetterman said in an interview with CNN last year, “so I understand why people might be concerned, but it has nothing to do with the race.”

But the question loomed over his Senate bid, and his Democratic opponents argued on Sunday that the story would be a powerful attack used by Republicans if Fetterman were the party’s nominee.

“It was wrong what he did, and he skipped the debate today because he doesn’t think he has to answer for it,” Lamb said, repeating a line of attack he said. started on Twitter last week. “Given everything that has happened in this country, this is fatal to his campaign.”

Kenyatta, a few minutes later, continues: “It does not matter the color of the skin of the jogger. John does not have to be racist to be wrong. He was completely wrong. And now he refuses to come here, and he expects you to vote for him. That’s a problem.

Calvello responded to the debate by saying the attacks are “the kind of scrutiny that comes with being the frontrunner in the nation’s most high-profile Senate race.”

“He faced the attacks and tackled them one by one, and he’s not just standing tall, he’s always winning,” he added.

Fetterman, who already holds elected office statewide and has been the fundraising leader, was the dominant figure in the Democratic primary, using his appeal to western Pennsylvania Democrats and his positioning in as a progressive populist with a level of national prominence. Lamb, a more moderate Democrat who has won a string of high-profile congressional races in GOP-leaning areas, argued the lieutenant governor was untested and would provide Republicans with countless opportunities to attack. if he was the candidate.

Lamb closed the debate by reiterating this argument.

“You deserve to have your questions answered and to be put under pressure and to see what we truly believe. That’s what you didn’t get from John Fetterman here today,” he said. said the congressman. “It’s unacceptable and that’s how you know he’s not ready for it. And I am.”

This story has been updated with comments from the McCormick campaign.

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