The Perfect Enemy | Pa. GOP Senate candidates: Biggest issues, takes on COVID-19 - KYW
May 28, 2022

Pa. GOP Senate candidates: Biggest issues, takes on COVID-19 – KYW

Pa. GOP Senate candidates: Biggest issues, takes on COVID-19  KYW

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mail ballots are starting to go out to voters for the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday, May 17. Throughout the next few weeks, KYW Newsradio is taking an in-depth look at each of the candidates and the issues in both the U.S. Senate and governors races.

First up, we’re starting with the GOP candidates in the Senate race to replace Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat – a race that’s getting plenty of national attention.

With weeks left to go, celebrity and money currently lead the wide Republican field, with a significant chunk of voters still showing as “undecided.”

We invited each candidate to ask every question, but not all candidates responded.

Dr. Mehmet Oz

On the role of government during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the long-running TV talk show “The Dr. Oz Show,” said he favors a more individualized approach in response to the pandemic, rather than the mask and vaccine mandates public health officials pushed for.

“As a doctor, I could say what they’re telling us with these mandates is dishones,” he said. “It’s a narrative that will not work. And we’re paying a price, a price that often our kids bore using them as a shield.”

On the direction of the Republican Party

Former President Donald Trump has loomed large over the Pennsylvania GOP primary for U.S. Senate. Oz and David McCormick were both vying for Trump’s endorsement, and the two have been locking horns over GOP credibility since Trump announced he’s endorsing Oz.

“[McCormick] went groveling to President Trump…President Trump saw right through it and did not endorse them,” said oz. “And then he endorsed me.”

Get to know the candidate

Since announcing his candidacy, Oz has generally been considered among the front-runners. Oz declined invitations for a one-on-one interview with KYW Newsradio, but on stage at a recent candidates’ forum, he explained his decision to walk away from television.

“Imagine being so compelled, so worried about your country, that you would give it all up and not feel an inkling of remorse for it,” he said.

Trump pointed to Oz’s celebrity status when he endorsed the talk show host-turned-candidate. His opponents say Oz has a history of supporting more liberal ideals, such as trans issues and abortion. Lately, though, his rhetoric has been more in line with conservatives and Trump.

Oz also drew criticism for living in northern New Jersey for the past 30 years. He said his current address is in Bryn Athyn, Montgomery County, but his opponents still take issue with his tenuous Pennsylvania roots.

David McCormick

On the role of government during the COVID-19 pandemic

McCormick agrees with Oz, saying the top-down approach was not the way to handle it:

“Government overreach by dictating everything, from vaccines to testing, to mask protocols, has wrought huge damage on our population, on our children, on our businesses.”

On the direction of the Republican Party

Oz shared his side of the one-on-one battle with David McCormick when it came to former President Trump’s endorsement. McCormick has fired at Oz about consistency about his positions on particular hot-button issues.

“He can’t run on his own positions and his own records. And what’s true is that he has flip-flopped on every major issue,” McCormick said.

“Mehmet has flip-flopped on every major issue. He essentially said that he was worried about the pro-life movement that was creating fights. He was worried about states putting in place pro-life legislation.”

Get to know the candidate

Oz isn’t the only one working to boost his Keystone State connection.

David McCormick, who also declined our requests for a one-on-one interview, grew up in Pennsylvania but most recently has called Connecticut home, where he headed Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds.

McCormick was a star wrestler at West Point and served in Desert Storm before returning to Pittsburgh. He then headed to Washington D.C. where he served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs under George W. Bush.

Throughout his campaign, he has touted his “America First” stance, along with promoting his “anti-wokeness” as a core tenet of his beliefs.

However, McCormick has faced criticism from fellow conservatives for his dealings with China during his time at Bridgewater, and his public condemnation of systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

McCormick vs. Oz: Their strategies

Muhlenberg pollster and political science professor Christopher Borick said Oz and McCormick have been able to separate themselves from the field, primarily through fame and fortune.

“Based on name recognition, based on finances, based on number of ads that have been put out, they’re in a separate league,” Borick said.

McCormick and Oz have spent a lot of time and money trying to define the other. Oz has accused McCormick of shipping jobs overseas, while McCormick labeled Oz a flip-flopping, Hollywood liberal.

“He’s never in his entire media career advanced a conservative agenda,” said McCormick.

“Dishonest Dave is at it again,’ Oz responded.

Borick said while those attacks on Oz may have been effective, former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Oz has been an effective defense.

“To give him credibility among the Republican electorate, where the former president’s still very popular, and to have him vouch for you and to endorse you in a very clear way, certainly elevates Oz’s chances here,” Borick said.

Borick added that McCormick now has to walk a fine line of showing he embraces the Trump brand of politics, but also sort of staying off Trump’s radar to avoid the dreaded anti-endorsement or attack.

“There’s an ad out right now where McCormick’s riding motorcycles through Pennsylvania, and the crowd behind him at the end is carrying Trump signs,” said Borick.

“‘People that like Trump like me, even if the former president himself doesn’t endorse me.'”

While Oz and McCormick are considered the front-runners, Borick points out that in a seven-candidate field, things could change quickly.

“You could imagine in this race in both in polling and looking at the nature of the field, a victorious candidate taking a slim plurality, maybe 30%, maybe high 20%, and becoming the nominee,” said Borick.

Kathy Barnette

Her strategy in the race

Montgomery County political commentator-turned-candidate Kathy Barnette has been making campaign stops with GOP gubenatorial front-runner Doug Mastriano. Barnette said unlike some of her opponents in the Senate race, she’s out meeting with voters.

“My campaign is engined by the people is separating me from the pack,” she said.

“Just spending time with the people and moving them into my corner.”

Borick says it’s been effective so far.

“She’s kind of emerged in the top tier, maybe a step or two behind Oz and McCormick, but certainly has made herself a player in this race.”

Which issue is most important?

Montgomery County political commentator-turned-candidate Kathy Barnette believes it’s hard to pick just one most critical issue.

“Everything’s on fire,” she said. “My heart is just sad for our country.”

But the Montgomery County resident said runaway inflation is probably top of her list.

“I could not help but to think about my own beginnings, and how this probably would have been another nail in the coffin for my own family,” said Barnette. “I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother did the very best she could do, but times were tough. Inflation is a gut punch.”

On the role of government during the COVID-19 pandemic

Barnette called mandates and closures government overreach.

“What we saw was that there were many, perhaps on both sides of the aisle, who allowed COVID-19 to trump the Constitution,” she said. “I don’t believe that that should be the case.”

On the direction of the Republican Party

Barnette said Trump may have coined “Make America Great Again,” but she said the state of the party has not been the case of the GOP moving specifically toward the former president.

“Our values never, never shifted to President Trump’s values. It was President Trump who shifted and aligned with our values,” Barnette said.

Barnette calls Oz and McCormick “political tourists” who are trying to use fame and fortune to buy a senate seat:

“We need to remember who we are,” said Barnette.

“Are we really just about the richest person in the room? And high name ID? Or do we really stand on those Republican principles of limited government, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-First Amendment with religion and freedom of speech?”

Get to know the candidate

Barnette grew up in rural Alabama, before joining the military and then settling in Montgomery County. She called McCormick and Oz “political tourists” trying to buy votes.

“Carpetbaggers, who are parachuted into this state, they’re spending a tremendous amount of money,” she said of them. “My campaign is engined by the people.”

If elected, Barnette said she’ll be as engaged with constituents as she’s been with voters. “You should vote for me,” she appealed, “because I am your best chance at ever getting anyone in office who will actually listen to you.”

Jeff Bartos

His strategy in the race

Berks County businessman Jeff Bartos is promoting himself as the only candidate who will focus on Main Street mom-and-pop businesses in Pennsylvania.

“Senator Jeff Bartos will never forget where he came from,” Bartos said.

“I’ve spent my whole life here, and it would be the privilege and honor of my career to go out and fight for our fellow Pennsylvanians.”

“He’s got the practical business sense to be a good representative for the state,” said Borick, “but at the level we’re seeing the spending at in this primary, to be able to compete there takes a lot.”

Which issue is most important?

Bartos said inflation is not only affecting working families, but also small businesses.

“The mom and pop [businesses] that survived the pandemic now only face a world where they can’t find employees, and they cannot afford materialism,” said Bartos. “They can’t compete with the giant companies for labor or for supplies.”

Bartos said easing restrictions on Pennsylvania’s energy industry would trickle down to help ease the financial burden on small businesses.

Bartos pointed to his work with the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, which he and some others set up to help businesses deal with shutdowns and disruptions during the pandemic:

“We ended up raising $3.5 million, helping over 1,000 women and men keep the lights on in their small business, saving thousands of jobs for working families across all 67 counties.”

On the role of government during the COVID-19 pandemic

As for the government’s response to the pandemic, Bartos says the decisions made after the first month or so were “some of the worst, if not the worst public policy decisions in the history of the United States.”

He points to the impact school and business closures had not only on communities but on children.

On the direction of the Republican Party

Bartos has a track record of bipartisanship. He said that while others are bickering about who is more conservative, his focus remains where it’s always been.

“I’ve been focused from day one on economic opportunity, safety and security in our communities, and educational choice, empowering parents and students to make the best decision for themselves,” Bartos said.

Get to know the candidate

Bartos, a businessman, also touted his Pennsylvania roots. “I’m the only lifelong Pennsylvanian running in this race,” he said. “I have committed my whole professional life to this commonwealth, we’ve raised our family here, and I’m a lifelong Pennsylvanian with a deep love for the commonwealth.”

Bartos said he’s the only one in the race who is fighting for the mom-and-pop businesses.

“I really am the only candidate talking about Main Street, Pennsylvania, about what our future can look like as a fast-growing dynamic state where our children and grandchildren choose to live,” he said.

Carla Sands

Her strategy in the race

Businesswoman Carla Sands, who grew up in Central Pennsylvania, points to her time as ambassador to Denmark.

“I worked for President Trump from 2017 until 2021 putting America first,” she said.

Borick believes that could be a difficult sell to voters, since she did not get Trump’s endorsement.

“She hasn’t received that kind of boost,” said Borick. “She can keep relying on her relationship as part of the administration, but I don’t know how far that goes.”

Which issue is most important?

Sands, like other candidates, also listed inflation as the major issue. She said what she calls “a war on domestic energy production” is throwing fuel on the fire.

“We know that when the price of energy goes up, everything gets more expensive,” said Sands.

Sands added that if elected, one of her priorities would be to ease restrictions on fracking and improve pipeline infrastructure.

“To bring that opportunity to Pennsylvania, get some companies investing here, skill up those jobs and good-paying jobs,” said Sands.

On the direction of the Republican Party

Sands points to her time as ambassador to Denmark under Trump, as she said she’ll fight for conservative values.

“The Republican Party is the party of constitutional rights,” said Sands. “We are the party of free speech. We are the party that protects religious liberty.”

Get to know the candidate

Like McCormick and Oz, Sands is spending millions of her own dollars in the race.

Sands was a big supporter of Trump’s “America First” agenda, and also served on his Economic Advisory Council. After the death of her husband, Fred Sands, in 2015, she took over as CEO of his investment firm, Vintage Capital Group.

Sean Gale

On the role of government during the COVID-19 pandemic

Montgomery County lawyer Sean Gale said government should provide information, but decisions should be left up to individuals and business owners.

On the direction of the Republican Party

Gale, brother of Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, said that unlike the other Republicans in the race, he isn’t tied down by the Republican Party.

“I’m gonna hold Mitch McConnell accountable to do the things they promised because they talk a good game, and then they get there, they get into position to get it done, and they fail us,” said Gale.

Get to know the candidate

Gale is a business and health care lawyer. Gale has taken great pains to point out his alignment with Trump.

On his website, Gale calls out outgoing Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey for voting to convict Trump during his impeachment trial, as well as fellow Senate candidate Bartos for being friends with Democratic candidate John Fetterman.

His brother Joe is running for Pennsylvania governor.

George Bochetto

Which issue is most important?

Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto says safety and security are high on his list of priorities. That includes increasing funding and resources for law enforcement.

Bochetto has taken on many high-profile cases in the city but lacks name recognition outside of Philly.

While he may not be on Trump’s radar, Bochetto has the endorsement of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police.

Get to know the candidate

Bochetto most recently won a ruling preventing the city from removing the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza. Like his Republican opponents, his candidate has painted him as standing against the “woke mob.”

Both Bochetto and Gale said they’ll not only call out Democrats in Washington, but will also hold fellow Republicans accountable.

Gale and Bochetto’s strategy in the race

Borick said they both face an extremely uphill battle to get their names out there, and their grassroots-style campaign in a state as large as Pennsylvania is a very heavy lift.