On PA campaign trail: GOP Senate candidates get nasty, Fetterman a solid frontrunner
This week on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania saw the political landscape rocked by a leaked Supreme Court ruling as GOP Senate candidates held their final, and most tense debate ahead of the May 17 primary.
The draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and possibly kick abortion regulations back to the states leaked Monday night energized pro-choice and pro-life advocates alike in races where rising inflation and immigration reform had previously dominated.
The draft opinion was immediately lauded as a possible historic victory by the five Republicans running for their party’s ballot to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in November.
Mehmet Oz, Dave McCormick, Kathy Barnette, Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands echoed their past support for banning abortion at the start of Wednesday’s televised debate hosted by Newsmax.
Oz, of Montgomery County, McCormick, of Allegheny County, and Barnette, of Montgomery County, have said they would make exceptions in cases where the life of the mother is at risk, with Bartos adding that he would support exceptions as well in cases of rape or incest.
Barnette has been staunchly against those added exceptions as she has shared that she was conceived when her then 11-year-old mother was raped by her 21-year-old father.
Sands, of Cumberland County, has said she is “pro-life from the beginning of life to the end of life” but hasn’t specifically addressed any exceptions.
While not at this week’s debate, candidate George Bochetto, of Philadelphia, has also said he would make exceptions if the life of the mother is at risk. Republican candidate Sean Gale, another Montgomery County resident, has steadfastly held a “no exceptions” policy on banning abortions.
This week’s debate was the final time the Republican candidates were likely to meet and address voters directly, and the candidates seemed to take that opportunity to go after each other on abortion, immigration and other issues through the hour-long debate.
A Franklin and Marshall College poll released Thursday shows Oz, McCormick and Barnette the current frontrunners among Republican voters, each showing gains compared to an April poll.
About 20% of voters said they would support Oz if the election were held today, a bump from the 16% who said they would vote for him last month.
McCormick also saw a jump from 15% to 16%, while Barnette saw the biggest leap forward going from 7% to 12% this month.
About 39% of voters are still unsure who they would vote for on the GOP ticket, down from 43% last month.
One thing the Republican candidates could agree on at this week’s debate was that they expected to face Democrat John Fetterman in November, and Thursday’s polling seems to support that.
The Franklin and Marshall poll estimates that Fetterman jumped 12 points since April with 53% of voters saying they would cast a ballot for the lieutenant governor if they voted today.
Fetterman’s closest challenger, Congressman Conor Lamb, dropped a few points this month with just 14% support among voters compared to 17% in April.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta remained at 4% this month, while Jenkintown council member Alexandria Khalil went from 0% to 1% in the poll.
About 27% of Democratic voters said they were undecided or would not vote for either candidate, a drop from roughly 37% of voters who answered similarly last month.
The poll surveyed voters between April 20 and May 1, a day before the Supreme Court leak.
Up to that point, however, only 14% of voters polled said they felt abortion should be illegal under any circumstances.
All of the Democratic candidates for the Senate have voiced support for open access to abortion as health care.
In the race for governor, Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano saw a 5-point jump in support with 20% of voters saying they would vote for him in an election.
About 34% of voters said they were still undecided in the race, which puts the race still a close call for Mastriano’s nearest challengers.
Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain has 12% support from voters, no change from last month, while former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta holds about 11% support, up one point from April.
Mastriano is facing criticism for attending an event in Gettysburg, Adams County, which touted conspiracy theories tied to the Qanon movement.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on April 27 that Mastriano attended and spoke at the event held in his state Senate district which included open references to “ritual child sacrifice” and a “global satanic blood cult.”
Qanon followers have also been leading supporters of Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, and the group is often seen as a driving force behind the Jan. 6 Capitol Riots.
Mastriano called the reports unfair, leftist propaganda at a debate last week, saying the media was unfairly grouping him in with extremists.
Mastriano abruptly ended an interview on a podcast hosted by the Delaware Valley Journal on Thursday when host Michael Graham pressed about how he would respond to his past support of voter fraud claims.
“I resent the fact that you want to castigate anyone who went down to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 as some kind of enemy of the public. That is dangerous. You’re talking like an East German there,” Mastriano said.
While the question was aimed more at how he would attract more moderate voters in a race against likely Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, Mastriano instead attacked “the left-wing media” for its treatment of him and other conservatives.
“I don’t like the tone of this whole interview because it is so unfair. I hope you’ll do scrutiny on [Josh Shapiro], or are you just too lazy?” Mastriano said.
When pressed about his past statements on unproven claims of voter fraud, Mastriano ended the interview.
The 2020 election and voter fraud claims have been a continuing issue following Republican candidates in the statewide races.
Democratic candidates in the Senate race have championed protecting voter access by supporting mail-in ballots and promising to pushback on GOP-led reforms like stronger voter ID laws.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican hopefuls have touted promises to repeal Act 77, the law that allowed no-excuse mail-in ballots that played a significant role in President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
Bartos, also of Montgomery County, is the only Senate Republican candidate to say he would have certified Pennsylvania’s election results if he had been in office on Jan. 6.
Election fraud and questions about the 2020 results were notably absent from Newsmax’s debate Wednesday night.
The news organization settled a defamation lawsuit last year filed by voting machine maker Dominion and issued a public apology for spreading unproven claims that an employee tampered with results to sway the election against Trump.
Voters have until May 10 to apply for mail-in ballot for the upcoming primary.
More information on how to apply for a mail ballot or other election questions can be found at www.vote.pa.gov or by contacting a county Board of Elections office.