During a one-hour forum hosted by the Delaware Valley Journal at the Radnor Memorial Library, four GOP U.S. Senate candidates made their case to Republican primary voters as they vie for retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat.
Kathy Barnette, Jeff Bartos, George Bochetto, and Sean Gale discussed issues ranging from local attitudes about energy policy to the international crisis in Ukraine as they took questions from DVJournal’s News Editor Linda Stein and conservative columnist Christine Flowers. Managing Editor Michael Graham moderated the debate.
The debate was broadcast by the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN).
On a majority of issues, like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination, all four candidates agreed on policy. The real differences were on style.
Bartos, the 2018 GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, focused on Jackson’s crime stance.
“It’s clear that Judge Jackson is an activist and has a record of being soft on crime,” he said. “We see first-hand how weak leaders in Philadelphia have let us down on this issue. You can’t have that on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Barnette, a Fox News regular, was more adamant about Jackson’s claim not to be able to define the word “woman,” in the debate over public policy regarding LGBT issues.
“If she can’t define a woman, how can we trust her to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law?” Barnette, a political commentator, and veteran, said.
While Gale, a business and healthcare attorney, agreed with his fellow candidates on voting against Jackson’s nomination, he was more concerned about Republicans on the court and how they had let him down–a theme of his anti-establishment campaign.
“We have a 6-3 majority in the court, yet it seems like we can never win any cases,” he added. “It’s important that we hold these Republicans accountable and make sure they hold up the Constitution.”
Bochetto, an attorney and former Pennsylvania State Boxing Commissioner, took a lawyerly approach to the questions. He also noted his concern about identity politics and the high court.
“The entire nomination process is about nominating the person for that position, and I don’t believe Judge Jackson is the right person for that position,” he said.
The candidates also discussed abortion. All said they are pro-life.
“Abortion is my number one issue and is one of the main reasons I got into politics,” Gale said. “It’s truly a stain on this country which is why I will be the most pro-life senator in the U.S. Senate.”
Bartos blasted Democrats for their stance on this issue and how they do not care about the sanctity of life.
“When you have 47 Democrats who voted for legislation on late-term abortion, they will have to answer many questions come election time this November,” he added.
Barnette and Bochetto said they realize the importance of voting against pro-choice legislation.
Bochetto shared the fact that he was abandoned as an infant and raised in an orphanage. “I wouldn’t be here today if Roe v. Wade were a law during my birth which is why I’m forever grateful that I could survive and thrive in the way I did,” Bochetto said.
Barnette discussed how her mother became pregnant after being raped at age 11. “Based on my experience, I truly believe that life begins at conception, and I will make sure to fight for that when I’m in the Senate,” she said.
When it came to discussing other issues, all the candidates agreed the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and has weakened the U.S. on the world stage.
However, criticism of the Biden administration did not stop there, as the candidates also attacked his border, energy, and infrastructure agendas. They raised their concerns that Biden has gone too far left and that his policies hurt families across the commonwealth.
A last-second topic was interjected after YouTube took down a video of last week’s GOP gubernatorial debate hosted by the Pennsylvania Family Institute. All four candidates agreed conservative speech is being targeted by Big Tech, though they disagreed on what the public policy response should be.
Gale was reluctant to see direct government control of private social-media companies, but he noted how tech companies were trying to have it both ways on the issue.
“The biggest hypocrisy we saw was with Donald Trump. (He) was sued for banning people from his own Twitter page. And they said, ‘You can’t do that. It’s a public forum.’ But then Twitter can ban the president of the United States from its entire platform. So there’s a major inconsistency there,” Gale said.
Barnette, on the other hand, urged aggressive federal action. “The overwhelming majority of our [exercise of] free speech, which is a constitutional right, takes place on social media. So for tech companies to be able to tell people, ‘Shut up, sit down, and do as you’re told’ doesn’t cut it. We need to be very firm on that.”
During their final remarks, the candidates told Delaware Valley GOP primary voters why they should be the Republican nominee.
“Our country is at a crossroads, and this November is when all Democrats will have to answer for their failures,” Bartos said. “I’m running to save Main Street and will be the only GOP candidate that can win.”
“I believe that the American family is the main focus of our campaign,” Barnette said. “If it’s good for the American family, I want to work on legislation that benefits them.”
“When I’m elected to the Senate, I will be a disruptor to the system and hold both sides accountable,” Gale said.
“This country is heading towards a terrible direction, and I have 45 years of experience in finding solutions in Pennsylvania,” Bochetto said. “I can bring those skills that are desperately needed in Washington.”
The Republican Senate primary will be held on May 17.