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PoliticsPA: Gerlach, Trivedi meet in final debate

By Alex Irwin
PoliticsPA Contributor
The second and likely final debate between Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach and Democratic challenger Manan Trivedi took place at the Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Montgomery County last night as the battle for the Sixth District reaches the homestretch.
Both candidates primarily stuck to the talking points that have defined their campaigns and countless others across the nation. Trivedi labeled Gerlach as a Washington insider who’s out of touch with his constituents, while Gerlach lumped Trivedi in with the current Democratic leadership and hammered home the need for less federal spending and fewer taxes.
For most of the debate, audience members obeyed the request to keep quiet until the debate’s conclusion. But spectators did erupt on a few occasions, especially on issues involving spending and the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year.

Trivedi, a medical doctor and Iraq War veteran, called for spending cuts and said he saw inefficiencies in military budgets and contractor work first hand. But he said those cuts can’t be made with a mallet, they have to be done with a surgical knife.

“Maybe we should send a battalion surgeon to Congress to do it,” he said as audience members laughed and applauded.

Gerlach said federal spending accounts for a much higher percentage of the gross domestic product under President Obama, and said continuing tax cuts will enable small businesses to drive growth.

“Let’s not forget that the answer is not in a larger government, it’s in empowering the private sector to grow jobs, which has been the foundation of the economy of this nation in its entire history,” Gerlach said, receiving an enthusiastic crowd response.

The candidates remained relatively civil throughout the discourse, but sparred over campaign contributions from special interests. When Trivedi accused Gerlach of taking donations from big oil and gas companies, Gerlach shot right back, saying Trivedi also receives contributions, but that doesn’t mean they affect his ability to serve his constituents.

“I would hope you would extend me that same courtesy,” Gerlach said.

“Do I get a rebuttal?” Trivedi quipped.

The debate was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and moderators touched on many subjects of particular impact to the Jewish-American community, including tensions between Israel and Palestine, the proposed mosque near Ground Zero and the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Trivedi called Israel “a powerful ally” and referenced his time serving in Iraq.

“I was willing to die for Israel,” Trivedi said. “That’s what allies do for each other.”

In one of the few efforts to reach across the aisle of the night, Gerlach praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s efforts in the region.

“Israel is a country of democracy and human rights that needs to be protected with our resources,” Gerlach said as audience members applauded.

None of the questions from the moderators or audience members specifically addressed healthcare reform, instead focusing on a wide range of issues, including school choice and reproductive rights.

Both campaigns estimated the turnout to be around 200 people and said attendance was slightly higher than Sunday’s debate, held at the West Whiteland Township Building in Chester County.

Controversy arose during that meeting when the League of Women Voters, which hosted the event, prohibited audio or video recording. During that debate, a Gerlach staffer asked a reporter from WHYY to turn off his recorder, saying later he “didn’t see any benefit for us” in Sunday’s event being recorded.

Gerlach attempted to clarify the confusion last night in an interview after the debate. He said both campaigns agreed to not record the debate, but that he had “no objection” to press recordings. Gerlach added he didn’t have faith in how the Trivedi campaign would use the footage.

““I didn’t trust how he would use the videotape. I’ve seen far too many instances where they cut and snip and paste and everything else, and we didn’t feel it was appropriate for him to videotape, and we didn’t videotape either,” Gerlach said.

The candidates have also quarrelled over whether or not they will hold a debate in Berks County before November 2. Gerlach said a scheduled debate was canceled when he was called to Washington, and BCTV was not able to reschedule.

Trivedi, a Berks County native who has been campaigning hard there, said Gerlach’s avoiding a debate, adding that it doesn’t have to be televised.

“I ask him again: Let’s have a debate in Berks County. I think we owe it to the residents of Berks county and I think frankly it’s unfair that he would neglect Berks County.”

The Temple was filled for the debate, with a fairly equal distribution of Gerlach and Trivedi stickers on the audience’s collars.

Karen Gotlieb, a Wynnewood resident, said she supported Gerlach and thought Trivedi was trying to play up a message of change and ride “on the coattails of Obama.”

“He’s no Obama — he didn’t have anything to back up what he was saying. You can pitch change and not be one of the cronies down in Washington, but that’s not enough.”

Gotlieb, who is a small business owner, said she has hired four new employees in the last two months, but said healthcare costs continue to be a concern for her and other small employers looking to hire more people.

“Unfortunately I had to bring them on as consultants and not give them benefits because benefits are so expensive now. But at least it’s a good start. It’s small businesses that are the ones who are able to do that.”

Joan Frost, a dental hygienist from Ardmore, said she likes that Trivedi has not been “Washingtonized” yet. She said she is very upset with the push to repeal the healthcare bill.

“We like Obama,” her husband Ken Frost chimed in.

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