HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) – The four leading Republican candidates vying for Pennsylvania’s open governor seat faced off on stage Wednesday night in an hour-long debate. The candidates are all hoping to replace Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.
Lou Barletta, Doug Mastriano, Bill McSwain, and Dave White were all in attendance as they answered pressing questions that Pennsylvanians care most about ahead of the primary election.
Here are some of the key moments.
Eliminating mail-in ballots
When asked if they thought no-excuse mail-in ballots should be eliminated, it was a unanimous yes from all four candidates with a show of hands.
The mail-in ballot law was passed and supported by Republicans, but the overall sentiment from White when providing his response was the people’s questioning of democracy and the elections after Act 77 was passed.
“If you go back to 2019, it may not have been who you voted for, it may not have been who you wanted, but you knew who was elected on election night and you were confident in the election,” White said.
White ended by affirming absentee ballots would stay.
McSwain followed by regarding Act 77 as unconstitutional and then directed his statement to Mastriano for having voted in favor of the act.
During his time to answer, McSwain also referred back to a previous question on electability pointing out Barletta, a career politician, has in the past approved Former President Barrack Obama’s budgets.
Barletta quickly gave a rebuttal to McSwain’s remarks.
“When I hear someone say they are not a politician, that means they have no experience and you want to say that I voted for Obama’s budget, it’s probably not as bad as you [McSwain] who voted for Obama,” Barletta said.
Barletta would later retract this statement with an apology for misinformation about McSwain, stating it was former President Bill Clinton, McSwain voted for.
Referring back to the question of mail-in voting, Barletta strongly stated he would repeal and get rid of Act 77, continue with the process of absentee ballots and enforce voter ID.
Mastriano also had his chance to challenge McSwain’s comments stating “lies and deception, all to get a vote” and that Act 77 was hijacked from the Democrats, becoming legislation that looked nothing like what the republicans voted on in the senate.
Mastriano who now opposes mail-in ballots spoke on supporting voter ID requirements and cleaning up election logs and resetting voter registration, starting all over again.
DRILL BABY DRILL
When asked about fracking and natural gas, the consensus was with Barletta when he replied with “drill baby, drill.”
All four candidates are big proponents of fracking in Pennsylvania, citing that the country can get their natural gas needs from us, not from Siberia, Russia, or any other foreign country.
Mastriano pointed out it was “absurd” that in the winter of 2018, Boston had to turn to Siberia to get shipments of natural gas instead of being able to ask Pennsylvania for it.
While White said he’s the only one right now with a plan to make it happen and bring jobs back to Pennsylvania, McSwain said he’s ready to turn on the spigot of our resources and “supercharge” the commonwealth’s economy.
ABORTION AND EXCEPTIONS
On the topic of abortions and if they believe there should be exceptions for rape or the well-being of the mother, all four candidates agreed that they are pro-life, but that’s about all the similarities you saw.
When asked about exceptions to abortion such as the woman having been raped, or the woman’s life is in danger due to the pregnancy, McSwain said he’s pro-life and there should be exceptions in those cases.
Mastriano on the other hand was firm and quick to deny the belief that there should be any exceptions and all abortions should be illegal.
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“I do not give way for exceptions either,” Mastriano continued. “Kathy Barnette, our next senator, she was a product of rape,” he fit in as an example just as his speaking time expired.
White responded by saying he’s not for exceptions to abortion. From being part of a family with 14 children to now having a child that’s in his 30s with the mind of a 5-year-old, he said that all life is a gift.
Barletta, however, said he has provided exceptions even though his track record shows he’s 100% pro-life and will continue to do so if elected Governor, saying he’ll sign any bill that comes his way to protect new lives.
The Fight for an Endorsement:
An issue that faces all four candidates is a lack of endorsement from former President Donald Trump. While the 45th president has not decided on who to endorse, a majority of Republican voters say an endorsement is important to who they vote for.
When asked why he should receive an endorsement, Mastriano said he shares common issues with Trump and Pennsylvanians and claimed to have accumulated 29,000 signatures across the state in support of his campaign. He also pointed to his work ethic and decades of military experience saying Pennsylvania voters can relate to someone like him.
“I was a janitor and did blue-collar jobs. I was a union member and I had to work my way to the top. There was no silver spoon given to me, unlike Governor Wolf. What they see is leadership and bold action. No talk,” Mastriano said.
Mastriano was also questioned about an article from the Philadephia Inquirer that said he attended a conference in Gettysburg by a couple who called themselves “The Profits of QAnon.” He responded by criticizing the media for labeling conservative extremists when they disagreed with politics but claimed he did not know about the couple.
Mastriano was again questioned about being subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee about organizing buses to travel to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020. In response to voters possibly being concerned about any legal issues he may face, Mastriano claimed there are no legal issues and said he was exercising his constitutional rights.
Candidate Dave White was then asked if he has spoken to President Trump and asked for his endorsement. White reassured that he has spoken to Trump and commended him on putting America first and bringing together blue-collar workers. He also claimed to be the most electable and relatable candidate among blue-collar workers due to his work experience.
“I’m a pipe fitter. I’m a member that is going out there and works hard every day. I came out of high school a votech student and grew an $85 million a year business with that kind of education. Because that’s hard work. That’s what the opportunity of America is and the promise of Pennsylvania, as I say,” White said.
Candidate Bill McSwain, who was appointed as U.S. Attorney in the Trump administration, found himself answering a different question as the former president called for Republican voters to not vote for him and referred to him as a coward. When asked about his path forward without an endorsement, McSwain reinforced his record as the only candidate to serve in the administration and said he followed Trump’s law and order agenda. He also addressed Trump’s negative comments by asserting his military experience.
“I don’t need a lecture from anybody about courage or toughness. I served our country as a United States Marine Corps Infantry Officer and Scout Sniper Platoon Commander,” McSwain said.
The former U.S. Attorney also took an opportunity to take a friendly jab at Mastriano saying he spent his entire military career wishing he was a Marine.
Lou Barletta was questioned about why Trump has not endorsed him even though he was endorsed during his run for U.S. Senate in 2018. He responded by saying he was involved with the former president during his campaign and transition into the White House. Barletta also claimed to have been considered for a Cabinet position as Secretary of Transportation.
“One thing I’ve learned about President Trump is you don’t speak for him. You just keep on working hard. He wants to see who’s going to work hard and who’s going to win,” Barletta said.