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Democratic Debate Night in Harrisburg

Tonight’s the night.

The Keystone State finally gets to see all three candidates for the Democratic nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat on the same debate stage.

The event, sponsored by Nexstar, will be held at the studios of WHTM-TV in Harrisburg and will air/livestream in 10 markets across Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland, reaching 9.8 million households in every county of PA.

WHTM Capitol Bureau reporter and news anchor Dennis Owens and WPXI-TV anchor Lisa Sylvester will co-moderate the 8 p.m. debate that will bring together John Fetterman, Conor Lamb, and Malcolm Kenyatta.

Candidates are eligible to participate in the debate by meeting a set of criteria agreed upon by each of the campaigns, including being listed on the primary ballot, actively campaigning, and meeting fundraising requirements.

Candidates must also receive a minimum of 5 percent support in an established, professionally conducted nonpartisan poll conducted by a company determined by Nexstar Media Inc. approximately one month before the primary election.

What to Watch For

The most recent Franklin & Marshall poll indicated that Fetterman, the current Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, has a commanding lead over Lamb and Kenyatta.

Can Fetterman, the former mayor of Braddock, get through the night without any major gaffe? Can he show suburban moderate voters that his everyman look can win in November? How will he respond to the now-infamous 2013 incident in which Fetterman pulled a shotgun on a Black jogger whom he had wrongly suspected of a shooting?

Can Lamb, the U.S. House representative from Pittsburgh, find room in the progressive lane that is currently dominated by Fetterman? Can he land any punches against the front-runner while showing the faithful that he is up to the job and can win?

Kenyatta, the state representative from Philadelphia, needs to break out before a statewide audience, but how? People like his message, but do not believe he can win in May nor in November. It is his job tonight to change those minds and bring more money into his coffers to state his case.

Why It Matters

As the May 17 primary approaches, more and more Pennsylvanians are beginning to pay attention. You cannot turn on a television at certain hours of the day and not be inundated with ads, not only from the candidates but also their PACs. This is the time to hear directly from the candidates.

There are few policy issues that separate the trio but we may hear more about fracking, gun control and marijuana legalization tonight than in recent days.

Worth Noting

“Electing a Republican, for a lot of Democrats, is simply not acceptable. So you start focusing on the other key matter: electability,” said Chris Borick, political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Of course, candidates’ debates or forums are helpful to the public, especially in a primary, especially in one with so many undecided voters,” wrote John Baer for PennLive. “But the truth is statewide elections are driven by pricey, glossy TV ads, focus-group-approved slogans, sound bites, buzz words and lots of money. The real debate ought to be over how to make politics better; how to make the electoral process more informative, less insufferable.”


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