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Pennsylvania Democratic candidates hold debate at CMU

The Pennsylvania Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate took part in a debate in Rangos Ballroom in the Cohen University Center on Sunday, Jan. 31. The event was hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College in association with the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club. The chairman of the club, Sam Hens-Greco, kicked off the introductions for the debate, stating that, “The purpose of our forum is quite simple: we want to have a substantive, serious, and thought-provoking space and time for you … and provide you with the opportunity to meet the candidates, to talk with them, and to hear them, and we want the candidates to have the opportunity to talk to you and tell you why you should be voting for them to be the Democratic nominee.”

The debate provided the audience with insight into the policy goals and political ideologies of each individual candidate. Through timed answers to questions asked by the two moderators of the debate, Paul Klein and Krysia Kubiak, both Members-at-Large of the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club, the candidates tried to illustrate their qualifications and convince members of the audience as to why he/she would be the optimal candidate to represent the Democratic Party in the Senate. The three candidates, John Fetterman, Katie McGinty, and Admiral Joe Sestak, each attempted to show that they are more than just capable of representing Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate.

John Fetterman, distinguished from the other candidates by his scruffy goatee, shaved head, and tattoos — not to mention his large frame — held his ground and argued that he is prepared to implement change through politics at the national level. Fetterman is a Harvard University graduate with a Master of Public Policy degree and has been the mayor of Braddock, P.A. for the past decade, but regardless, he may not have as much governmental experience as his two opponents.

Katie McGinty and Admiral Joe Sestak, in their sharply dressed suits and proper professional demeanor, seemed to be more comfortable on the stage and well trained for events such as this one. They both have an extensive background consisting of large-scale political involvement. McGinty has served as the former chief of staff to Governor Tom Wolf in addition to being the former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Admiral Sestak, on the other hand, was a three-star admiral in the U.S. Navy and formerly served as a congressman for Pennsylvania’s seventh congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Fetterman seemed to have the most support from the local population, which constituted for a majority of the audience in Rangos Ballroom.

The debate addressed a spectrum of countless relevant topics through a myriad of questions concerning important policy issues. Among the topics covered were environmental concerns, health care, gun control, and the refugee crisis, just to name a few. Fetterman answered the questions in a way that drew on his personal experiences and suggested that he has strong morals, stands by his ideological beliefs, and hopes for improved bipartisan cooperation in the Senate. McGinty argued that she is a diligent and determined candidate who has had considerable experience in higher-institution politics and empathizes with middle class families. Admiral Sestak emphasized his achievements on Capitol Hill, and used his experience in the Navy to exemplify his love and devotion to the country and the state and how these traits would affect the way he would handle varying situations as a senator.

When each of the candidates were asked to speak to their respective electability and what distinguished them from the other two opponents, McGinty answered, “I have a track record of getting it done, and I have just a little bit of energy that I promise I will throw into the job.” Admiral Sestak spoke about his hopes to restore the American Dream and restrain military forces in issues regarding foreign policy. Fetterman opened his answer with a comedic take on his appearance, stating, “Well I suspect it’s probably harder for me to find clothes to wear.” He continued, “The head of the Pennsylvania state party believes that I’d be the strongest candidate in the field to go up against Pat Toomey, and I also believe that I’ve never shied away from a tough election.”

At the end of the debate, based on audience reactions and feedback, John Fetterman seemed to come out as the winner. This could perhaps also be attributed to his position as the most relatable candidate and his popularity from being the mayor of a local town. The 2016 U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania will be held on Nov. 8.

The event was filmed and is available to view on YouTube.