Eleven Pennsylvania candidates are vying to replace U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, with four Democrats and seven Republicans seeking their parties’ nominations in Tuesday’s primary elections.
As has been mentioned over the past couple days, Indiana and Armstrong counties have much in common.
Going into the final weekend before the primary election, The Indiana Gazette asked candidates running for statewide office how they view the rural west-central counties north of the Kiskiminetas and Conemaugh rivers.
The Gazette concludes the discussion with the contest to succeed U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley.
Answers are listed in the order in which the candidates will appear on the May 17 ballot, beginning with the four Democrats:
• Alex Khalil, 60, a member of borough council in Jenkintown, Montgomery County, said she is committed to serving all the people in Pennsylvania.
“My promise to the residents of Indiana and Armstrong counties is that I will reach out to you to learn what is keeping you up at night, and together we will come up with plans to solve issues in both counties,” Khalil said. “I plan to have staff that will be focused on Indiana and Armstrong counties. Like all counties in Pennsylvania, the drug crisis is plaguing Armstrong and Indiana. Both counties have suffered significant population loss and the loss of job and economic opportunities. My goal is to make these counties attractive to young people and for economic development. Both counties have a strong commitment to environment revitalization and outdoor recreation. Both counties have community members who are proud and committed to their communities. Farming appears to be thriving in Indiana County, and Armstrong County had and still has remnants of a strong mining industry. Rural health care and keeping hospitals open and providing all necessary health services including mental health care is important in all the rural counties of Pennsylvania, including Indiana and Armstrong.”
• U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, 37, of Allegheny County, did not respond.
He has not ignored this area.
Supporters said his campaign visited The Artists Hand Gallery in downtown Indiana on May 2.
“Great stop in Armstrong County,” Lamb posted after an April 23 visit. “We can win counties like this by showing up, answering tough questions, and talking about the issues that actually matter to people — not just spitting out meaningless slogans. That’s what sets our campaign apart and that’s how we win in November.”
He also recently attended the Butler County Democratic Committee and Greater Westmoreland County Labor Council breakfasts.
• State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, 31, of Philadelphia County, also did not respond.
He has not campaigned in this area, though on May 1 he posted about his meeting with Clearfield County Democrats in Curwensville. He also has campaigned several times in the Pittsburgh area.
• Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, 52, a former mayor of Braddock in Allegheny County, has been in Indiana County with his marijuana listening tour (April 14, 2019, Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex), and in downtown Indiana on April 24 as part of a campaign where he has said he seeks “every county, every vote” in his bid to replace Toomey.
“This seems like a lot of people for a county that is so red,” Fetterman said of Indiana County at Spaghetti Benders.
Indiana County has 26,637 Republicans and 16,019 Democrats among 48,757 registered voters. Armstrong by comparison has 25,450 Republicans and 12,269 Democrats among 42,647 registered voters.
Fetterman and Lamb both were in Armstrong County April 23. Fetterman visited Falsetti’s Villa Restaurant in North Buffalo Township and spoke to some 60 supporters.
“The path to turning this seat blue runs through communities like Kittanning,” Fetterman posted on Facebook.
Fetterman also was in Armstrong County recently to join then-striking ACMH Hospital nurses on the picket line.
“We all have issues in the smaller counties that are bipartisan,” Fetterman said after his speech at Spaghetti Benders.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “is a little more contentious in light of the war in Ukraine,” Fetterman said. “Energy independence is critical in Pennsylvania, but climate is critical.”
Fetterman said the nation had “to be sure we are not relying on (oil imports from) Russia, or Iran or Venezuela.”
He also said the drive toward legalizing marijuana “has taken a quantum leap” since 2019, and had thoughts about Indiana University of Pennsylvania, calling it “a wonderful school.”
“We need to make sure in Pennsylvania we have a top-flight state (university) system,” Fetterman said. “I’ve always been an ardent supporter of our State System (of Higher Education).”
There also are the seven Republicans:
• Political commentator and author Kathy Barnette, 50, of Montgomery County, entered the world of politics for the first time in 2020 when she decided to run against the entrenched incumbent in the Fourth Congressional District near Philadelphia. In a campaign hampered by a COVID-19 quarantine, Barnette raised more than $1 million in a four-month campaign and outpolled then-President Trump in a losing effort.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Barnette only has spent approximately $1.6 million to date on a statewide campaign, telling her story about rising from poverty after growing up on a pig farm in Alabama. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first Black person elected to the Senate from Pennsylvania.
In a February campaign visit with gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Teddy Daniels to Elderton, Barnette talked about her “up-from-the-bootstrings” biography, serving 10 years in the Armed Forces Reserves, and her work as an adjunct professor of corporate finance and conservative political commentator, including Fox News.
She also spoke of protecting election integrity and defending the right to bear arms.
The three spoke to a capacity crowd in the Towne Hall in Elderton.
• Dr. Mehmet Oz, 61, said he married his wife 36 years ago in the same Montgomery County house where they live now, across the Delaware River from a longtime residency in New Jersey.
On March 11, his campaign to succeed Toomey brought Oz to Dean’s Diner in Blairsville, where his campaign gave The Indiana Gazette an eight-minute window for an interview.
“I have fought to protect my patients and my viewers on the biggest stage, network television,” Oz said. “I have the scars to prove it, and I can’t be bought.”
He also had thoughts about farming, the Green New Deal and fracking.
“We need the freedom to frack,” he said, something allowed in Pennsylvania — but with limitations. He said permits need be issued in a more timely fashion by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
He also said fracking facilities “can be shut down because a bureaucrat creates a non-scientific argument.”
As for the Green New Deal, Oz called it “woke ideology” and “a scam, scientifically.”
He said energy “brings hundreds of thousands of jobs, well-paying jobs that can’t be off-shored.”
He also said farming is important — and getting more costly.
“Fertilizer has tripled in price,” Oz said. “Herbicides are dramatically more expensive. And gasoline has doubled in price. It is not fair to farmers.”
Another issue close to Oz’s heart is COVID-19, a pandemic that brought about “top-down, authoritarian overreach that did not make us safe — just like the Green New Deal.”
Until recently, Oz was host of a morning talk show that won Emmy awards, but he also is a heart surgeon and attending physician at New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center and an author.
His grasp of issues important in west-central Pennsylvania could be aided by his campaign manager Casey Contres, who has Cambria County roots, a 2011 degree in political science and journalism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and a résumé that included nearly three years as communications director for Rep. Bill Shuster, former Republican congressman from a south-central district that included Indiana County.
• Trial lawyer and former Pennsylvania Boxing Commissioner George Bochetto, 69, of Philadelphia County, did not respond.
He did schedule a campaign visit earlier this year to the Indiana area but then canceled it.
• Developer and 2018 Republican lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Bartos, 49, of Montgomery County, did not respond.
In November, he posted on Facebook a list of county campaign captains, one that “represents community leaders nervous about the future of Main Street, business owners worried about the economy, parents concerned about their children’s future, and elected officials in need of a partner in DC.”
The list included businessman Andy Bradigan in Armstrong County and David Fluharty of White Township for Indiana County.
• Businessman Dave McCormick, of Allegheny County, said he looks forward to “hearing about the issues facing Indiana and Armstrong counties and doing everything I can in the U.S. Senate to stand up and fight for you. I’m a lifelong conservative, combat veteran and PA job creator who will restore pro-growth policies, establish energy dominance, and secure our borders to reduce crime and fentanyl flooding our Commonwealth.”
His father, Dr. James McCormick, is from Plumville.
“As a seventh generation Pennsylvanian born outside Pittsburgh and raised in Bloomsburg, I’m focused on fighting for Pennsylvania and have always put America First,” McCormick said. “When I turned 18, I chose to attend West Point and then went on to serve as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne in the U.S. Army during the first Gulf War.”
According to various reports, McCormick has a major backer in S&T Bank board Chair and state Republican National Committeewoman Christine J. Toretti.
• Sean Gale, 31, is an attorney and brother of Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, a candidate for governor. He did not respond.
• Carla Sands, 61, a Cumberland County chiropractor and U.S. Ambassador to Denmark under President Donald Trump, said she “will defend the region’s agricultural and energy jobs from the Biden Administration’s ‘Green New Deal’ attacks. It is vital that we end our reliance on foreign oil and tame inflation — and that’s what I will champion as Pennsylvania’s next senator.”
She said she would always “represent Pennsylvania values and fight to put the constitutional rights and interests of Pennsylvanians first.”