Democratic U.S. Senate candidates face off at Penn State

WPSU hosts a U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate between John Fetterman, Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak on Saturday.
WPSU hosts a U.S. Senate Democratic Primary Debate between John Fetterman, Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak on Saturday. adrey@centredaily.com

When Penn State senior Jordan Todd called Pennsylvania a “purple state,” the three Democratic U.S. Senate candidates talked about how they’d persuade moderate voters.

And it started with trying to relate to the communities they represent.

A six-year U.S. Senate term is up for grabs with the primary vote later this month against Republican incumbent Pat Toomey.

“This debate was nothing more than a contest to see which Democratic candidate could kowtow most to the extreme liberal agenda,” Toomey’s spokesman Ted Kwong said in an emailed statement. “Meanwhile, Sen. Toomey is busy working for Pennsylvania, helping our police officers and keeping predators out of our schools.”

On Saturday night, candidates John Fetterman, Katie McGinty and Joe Sestak went head-to-head-to-head in a civil U.S. Senate Democratic primary debate, during which they agreed on nearly everything.

It was hosted by WPSU in partnership with the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, and allowed students at colleges and universities from across the commonwealth to ask questions on topics they think could affect their futures.

Education and income equality were two of the main topics.

“It starts with putting our money where our values are,” McGinty, former environmental adviser to President Bill Clinton, said.

She said limiting standardized tests to restimulate students in class is key. She said she also hopes to introduce more educational opportunities to people in poverty.

That was something Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, and Sestak, a former admiral in the U.S. Navy, also highlighted, along with trying to obtain funds to support more pre-K programs and amend the education funding formula.

In coming up with extra dollars, Fetterman said there are no boundaries when it comes to supporting education.

“We just need to look at all resources,” he said.

Sestak said he’s invested in pre-K programs that not only help give students a good foundation of education early in their lives, but also help students who “fall off the rails” get back on track.

The GED program, Fetterman said, is perfect for those kind of students. That, he added, could mean the difference between getting a job or not.

“It’s unfortunate, but your ZIP code could determine your future,” Fetterman said. “We need to change that by being invested.”

He also said he believes in changing what he called an “unfair distribution of resources” to school districts.

Moderator Patty Satalia, WPSU senior producer and host, said Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap to school districts in the country.

But that’s not the only divide.

The candidates said there is also a gap between the rich and poor in the commonwealth.

That’s why they said they’re in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15, which would give people a chance at a decent living.

The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25.

“I believe in equal pay for equal work, which could contribute millions of dollars to our economy,” McGinty said.

Reinvesting in different parts of the economy was also a priority the candidates said they agreed on to benefit blue- and white-collar workers.

McGinty said reinvesting in the “modern economy” — in areas such as tech-based businesses and infrastructure — would create jobs for people of all skills.

Fetterman and Sestak said they were big advocates of bringing jobs back to Pennsylvania by potentially readjusting taxes or other roadblocks that make it hard for businesses to build locally.

Also an advocate for the environment, McGinty said there is a balance to job growth and protecting Mother Nature.

“You can grow good jobs when you’re smart about the environment,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s primary election is April 26.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo