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PA-Sen: Democrats Debate at Progressive Summit in Harrisburg

Dem Senate DebateThe three Democratic candidates for Senate gathered in the ballroom of the Harrisburg Hilton this evening for their first formal debate (they participated in a forum in Pittsburgh before this).

The event is part of Keystone Progress’ annual Progressive Summit.

In their opening statements, as well throughout the discussion, Fetterman and Sestak talked about their experience as a Mayor and Congressman/Admiral respectively. McGinty, meanwhile, went after Sen. Toomey and his recent comments about the Supreme Court vacancy.

McGinty’s attacks on Toomey turned out to be the only attacks leveled during the debate as the candidates didn’t lay a glove on one another. Instead, they used the opportunity to pitch themselves to the progressive audience.

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman echoed his presidential choice Bernie Sanders by calling for a political revolution.

“You can’t just show up at election time and say the right things and think that is enough,” he said in his opening statement. “My campaign believes your zip code should not determine your destiny.”

McGinty sold herself as a middle class champion.  

“I’m in this race to fight for people, to fight for families,” she declared.

Former Congressman Sestak cited his experience as his strongest attribute.

The first question came from the Center for American Progress and concerned what type of judicial nominee the candidates would support.

They all made it clear that any judicial hopeful would have to pass several litmus tests. Among them were a women’s right to choose, workers right to organize, and a commitment to overturn Citizens United.

Sestak also pointed out that all the current Supreme Court Justices are Ivy League educated and pledged to push for more educational diversity among the judiciary.

The next questions came from the Women’s Law Project and New Voices and concerned ensuring women’s equality in the workplace and protect a woman’s right to choose. Once more, all the candidates cited their personal experience and pledged to protect women’s rights.

McGinty pointed to the prominent activist Malala Yousafzai, calling for a “Malala agenda”.

The spectre of big money in politics infuriated all three Democrats.

“Why don’t we have an economy that works for people anymore?,” McGinty asked. “All you have to do is follow the money.”

She was also the first to bring up those scourges of Democrats, the Koch Brothers.

Sestak went even further, asserting that “I believe if you take money out of politics, you’d fix 80% of the problems.”

Meanwhile, Fetterman asked everyone who thought money had an outsized influence in politics to raise their hands. Subsequently, every single hand in the audience went up.

“Well, you can all relax because it’s much worse than you think,” he joked before declaring that “Citizens United has to fall and democracy must return to our country.”

In the Democratic presidential primary, single-payer healthcare has been a contentious issue as it is a core tenant of Sanders’ campaign while Clinton proclaims it unrealistic.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that Fetterman (who is “feeling the Bern”) supports such a measure.

McGinty and Sestak, however, also embraced the concept and talked about the impact health crises have had on their lives. For McGinty, it was her sister who died from brain cancer while for Sestak, it was his daughter who survived a brain tumor.

The next question came from the audience and concerned the moral obligations of climate change.

“How many planets do we have to live on currently?” Fetterman joked. “101 out of 100 climate scientists say this is a huge, huge deal.”

McGinty pointed to her long work on environmental issues which goes back to joining Al Gore’s staff in 1989. It was also at this moment that she got the biggest applause line of the night. “You know, with Republicans, on climate they say they’re not a scientist so they can’t do anything. But when it comes to women’s health, they’re suddenly got an MD and a PhD.”

Sestak called climate change a national security issue and reiterated that he supports a moratorium on fracking.

The three candidates didn’t even argue when they reached the most divisive issue in the Democratic Party: trade.

All of them rejected the President’s Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I’m fundamentally opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the fast-tracking of it,” McGinty stated.

“I’m not a supporter of TPP, how can you be?” Sestak asked.

Fetterman agreed, admitting that he never thought he would ever say “Ross Perot was actually right about something”, referring to Perot’s infamous description of NAFTA as a giant-sucking sound. He went on to call TPP “NAFTA-redux”.

“I’m all for fair trade,” he stated. “But this is free trade and free trade means we will screw you over.”

The candidates were then asked about systemic racism and they all pledged support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Labor unions were the next topic with each of the three again telling an anecdote from their lives. McGinty talked about how she came from a union household while Sestak touted his 100% record from the AFL-CIO. As is his wont, Fetterman turned to humor.

“I’m 46 years old and I’ve yet to meet a greedy union member but I’ve met greedy CEOs,” he declared.

The closing statements soon followed and the debate was over.

This was not destined to be a night of fireworks or even disagreement. Nevertheless, one got a good look at each person and how they’re presenting themselves to the electorate.

McGinty was on point and signaled she is ready to face down incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. Fetterman and Sestak, on the other hand, proclaimed themselves outsiders seeking to serve as a continuation of their governmental and military careers.

All is civil now but there’s just sixty-five days to the primary and the clock is ticking.

16 Responses

  1. Lee-

    You are correct about Sestak refusing help from former Specter supporters. Sestak’s excuse for losing because the party wouldn’t help him is complete bullsh*t as well. He wouldn’t work with state committee when they asked that he pay state committee worker minimum wage.

    Joe talks about how he’s got a pro-union voting record, but when it comes to walking the walk, Joe’s the kind of employer that unions were formed to oppose.

    Talk with the ex-staff. The lemmings that are still working for Joe are hoping for recommendations or jobs and won’t say a bad word.

    From a Philly mag piece in 2009 profiling Sestak:
    “According to a 2007 investigation by The Hill, 13 of Sestak’s employees quit their jobs in the first eight months after he was sworn in. They cited 14-hour days, being forced to work on holidays, and Sestak’s temper….By churning through so much staff, Sestak is failing to build institutional knowledge, and institutional knowledge is how you traditionally amass power on the Hill; you find people who know how to work process, to interact with the think tanks and the committees and the consultants and, yes, the lobbyists (they’re not all evil!), and nurture and reward them so they’ll help you construct a little empire. If you’re not doing that, you’re not elevating service, and you’re isolating yourself.”

    And that’s how badly he treated his congressional staff.

    Divide their pay by their hours (over 70 per week, and many made less than minimum).

  2. Randy…. In 2010 after Sestak defeated Specter in the primary. Go his own way Joe turned down all help from former Specter supporters. Both manpower and financial support was not accepted . I know this for a fact because I was a Specter supporter. Sestak lost by 2%. You think now turning funding and manpower was a great move on Joe’s part. I consider Joe Sestak to be a friend but I believe either vanity or nativity cost Joe that race. The list of people Joe has irritated in the last 5 years is a long one and it’s not going away.

  3. Randy: None are bad at all. Any would be much better than Toomey.

    Whistleblower: I agree with your conclusions about Sestak (most senatorial) and Fetterman (most sincere). As one who has often been judged critically for my south-central PA Dutch accent, I work hard not to factor those in. It’s not like any of us choose them. There are other concerns / criticism of McGinty I might agree with.

    Jill: Correct. The straw poll was Sestak, Fetterman and McGinty. Toomey was on the ballot. He got zero (0) votes 😉

    Lee: The same funds will be available to any Democrat who moves to the General election. None who plan to give will either give to Toomey, or sit it out, regardless who wins. That is a straw man every time it is used, including here.

    DD: Your tired and baseless generalizations about Sestak’s (unnamed) unhappy staff are tiresome. I repeat that all his staff with whom I regularly interact (phone, email, social media, in person) seem happy and excited to be working for him. If someone is or was unhappy…where are they?

    And how often does DD interact with those folks, to ensure the one or many who told him this were not just having a bad day? I would have probably spoken poorly of every single boss I’ve ever had, on certain days. Overall, I have complaint with few of them.

  4. Despite the Rhino’s opinion in this column Toomey fears McGinty the most of the three candidates. Her economic, education, and environmental views are spot on. McGinty is going to have the funds moving forward to make Pat Toomey a one term Senator. Why else would Toomey be attacking McGinty at this time with adds. It’s called piling on and hoping for anyone else to win the Democratic Senatorial Campaign. Pat Toomey has a record that he has to run on. He has voted for every special interest bill that has came to the Senate while voting against middle class economics,educating children,doesn’t believe in climate change and has voted 12 times against bills that help Veterans. Pat Toomey getting involved in the Democratic Senotorial race against McGinty shows clearly who he doesn’t want to run against in the General Election.

  5. Whistleblower, I actually thought Sestak sounded like a weird yet condescending story teller. His delivery is very strange. He did the exact same cheesy “I got your six” the next day to almost the same audience.

  6. Whistleblower-

    Sestak did a great job slinging his bullsh*t, and pretending to support single payer, when he’s been against it since day one (10 years when he first announced at his campaign HQ opening).

    The progressives there had no idea how he’s mistreated his staff (especially the women).

    Sestak’s plan seems to be repeating his lies often enough that people believe him.

    McGinty and Fetterman need to call Sestak out on his house in Virginia and being as much of a PA resident as Santorum was.

  7. David Diano hold your ears and close your eyes. Admiral Sestak sounded the most Senatorial. McGinty has a horrible accent. Fetterman seemed the most sincere

  8. Repubs are mounting daily attacks on McGinty because they know she will be the strongest candidate in November. I hope that most Dems see through this smokescreen.

  9. Randy, I respectfully disagree. McGinty is that bad when it comes to misrepresenting her past.

    I don’t care what she’s done in the past, she is welcome to make herself a 1 percenter if that is what she chooses. It becomes distasteful and disingenuous when she suddenly claims to care about black lives and other issues she has ignored her entire life.

    I was at the debate last night and she was even stealing Fetterman’s lines and repeating them verbatim as if they were her own.

    I take Sestak as a sort of a strange bird, but a genuine caring person who makes the world a better place. Not my candidate, but I understand why people would choose him. McGinty on the other hand… a self-serving complete and total fabrication of Rendell and the party that should disgust any fair minded progressive.

  10. You know, she’s really not that bad. None of the candidates are. Regardless who wins, they’ll all do a great job. Dehumanizing them and insulting candidates only makes me more disappointed in our politics and our voters.

  11. Can you believe McGinty had the gall to say “Follow the Money.” Indeed, she’s the only one of the 3 candidates for whom we need to follow the money! What a hypocrite!! I saw the debate and she came across as a fake. She needs to drop out of this race. Has she no shame?

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