Four of the GOP candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor met on the debate stage on Wednesday night and found more in common than might have originally been expected.
That does not mean the 60-minute debate involving Lou Barletta, Doug Mastriano, Bill McSwain and Dave White was not contentious at times.
The quartet essentially agreed on outlawing abortion, getting rid of mail-in voting, expanding fracking and cutting regulations on drillers.
What they disagreed was on who is the best person for the job.
Mastriano called abortion is top issue and signaled that he would sign a “heartbeat bill” to enact an abortion ban from the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected. He went as far as to mention U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, saying “She is a product of rape.” Mastriano and White said they do not support exceptions for rape, incest or when the life of the month is at stake.
Barletta said he has voted to oppose abortion every chance he got in Congress and McSwain said he would have positions in his administration for pro-life voices. Only McSwain said a doctor who performs an abortion should not be punished.
Not surprisingly, all four called for the elimination of the no-excuse, mail-in balloting that was created in 2019 through Act 77, despite the fact that Pennsylvania voters have embraced the law and cast 2.6 million ballots by mail in 2020.
McSwain went after Mastriano, who joined many Republicans in voting for the law, saying “Act 77 was brought to you by Doug Mastriano,” and called it unconstitutional. Mastriano countered by saying the bill was “hijacked by Democrats, rewritten by [Tom] Wolf and [former Secretary of State Kathy] Boockvar, and abetted by ZuckBucks,” referring to money allocated to PA counties by Mark Zuckerberg through the Center for Tech and Civic Life. He also called for nine million registered Pennsylvanians to re-register to vote. “We’re going to start all over again.”
White stated that “you have so many people who are now questioning our democracy and our elections. They have no confidence in it. That all changed with Act 77 and the people who voted for it should be held accountable.”
“We know dead people have been voting in PA all our lives,” commented Barletta. “Now they don’t even have to leave the cemetery.”
Unanimity ruled on the topic of energy. The four want to extract as much natural gas as possible, slashing regulations on drillers and getting the Commonwealth out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“Drill baby drill,” said Barletta. “This is Pennsylvania’s future.” “Fracking like you wouldn’t believe,” added Mastriano. McSwain said it is the key to “supercharge our economy,” while White had a vision of “six-figure jobs, 50-60 thousand of them.”
Trump and America First
In a similar manner to their Senate candidate counterparts, each of the four tried to cloak themselves in the “true conservative” mantle and a worthy choice to continue the America First policies of former president Donald Trump.
White claimed that with his background as a former union steamfitter and a business owner, he can attract the type of disaffected Democratic voter into the GOP fold. Barletta, among the first to endorse Trump for president in 2016, said that although he co-chaired his campaign in PA and was on the transition team, “one thing I’ve learned about President Trump is that you don’t speak for him. You just keep working hard.”
Mastriano made the case as one of Trump’s key allies in the attempt to find fraud in the 2020 election. McSwain argued that he was the only candidate to serve in the Trump administration as the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. However, Trump has also issued a statement calling out McSwain as a “coward” for not doing more on his behalf and that voters should not vote for him.
The state senator from Franklin County, Mastriano was questioned by the moderators about his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He said he’s “been fighting for election integrity and taken the shots – even subpoenaed by this McCarthyist Democrat cabal in Congress.”