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What we learned from a Pa. Republican Senate debate that Oz and McCormick skipped

Mehmet Oz and David McCormick loomed over the latest Pennsylvania Republican Senate debate — even though they didn't show up.

Left to right, Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidates George Bochetto, Kathy Barnette, and Jeff Bartos.
Left to right, Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidates George Bochetto, Kathy Barnette, and Jeff Bartos.Read moreFile Photos

There was the expected: High-profile, deep-pocketed Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania took heat for blowing off a debate Monday night.

Then came the unexpected: A candidate repeatedly bashed the Republican Party for “right-wing extremism” and 2020 presidential election lies.

And it all ended on a blunt note: Another candidate said Republicans must stop electing nominees “who suck at telling our story.”

Here’s what we took away from Monday’s debate at Villanova University.

‘Political tourists’ Oz and McCormick avoid the show — but still loom large

Jeff Bartos, a Montgomery County real estate developer, hammered home his status as a loyal son of Pennsylvania after a trio of accused carpetbaggers who have lived in other states — David McCormick of Connecticut, Mehmet Oz of New Jersey, and Carla Sands of California — skipped the debate. He opened with a joke about it all and then slammed McCormick for his hedge fund’s investments in China.

“They don’t live here,” Bartos said. “They couldn’t bother to show up tonight. They don’t care about you. They don’t know this state.”

» READ MORE: David McCormick’s longtime praise for China and trade could bite his Pa. Senate run

Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator from Montgomery County, joined in.

“It is such an insult that this is the second debate and they refuse to come before the American people as specifically Pennsylvanians and allow you to vet them,” she said.

Everett Stern hijacks the stage

The little-known Chester County candidate drew the most passionate audience response — prolonged booing and jeering — for his stated mission of saving the GOP from the type of “right-wing extremism” that fueled the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

“I hope everyone on this stage admits that [Joe] Biden is the president,” he said. “I hope we’re on the same page here.”

“I’m not on your page, I can assure you,” responded George Bochetto, a Philadelphia attorney.

» READ MORE: She lost big in the Philly suburbs. She went hunting for voter fraud. Now Kathy Barnette is a rising GOP star.

Stern called on Barnette to apologize for taking supporters to the rally in Washington that preceded the violent attack on the Capitol.

Barnette, later answering a question about civility in politics, was interrupted by Stern, prompting a moderator to tell him to let her finish. She concluded by saying the state’s next senator should focus on “ignoring the noise,” a clear shot Stern’s way.

“We just need to stop picking people who suck at telling our story,” Barnette said later, drawing a raucous round of applause.

Gas, gas, gas, and foreign affairs

The four participating candidates framed the state’s natural gas deposits as an underutilized resource stymied by Democrats in Harrisburg and Washington.

“We have two Saudi Arabias’ worth of natural gas here in Pennsylvania,” said Bartos, suggesting that the Biden administration had ceded the energy sector to Russia, which he cast as “effectively a gas station with an army.”

Barnette said Pennsylvanians are “literally standing on pure gold here” and called the Biden administration hostile to the industry. Bochetto vowed to work on opening up pipelines to make it easier to export natural gas to other countries.

Immigration and ‘low-skilled labor’

Bartos, Barnette, and Bochetto support completing a wall on the border with Mexico, minimal parts of which were constructed under former President Donald Trump’s administration.

Bartos took aim at Philadelphia’s “sanctuary city” status, which prevents local police from cooperating with federal officials in arresting and removing undocumented immigrants.

Barnette, echoing Trump’s rhetoric, said, “We are not a sovereign nation if we don’t control our borders.”

» READ MORE: We're tracking the candidates running for Senate in Pennsylvania

Bochetto called building the wall and ending sanctuary cities “the low-hanging fruit” and said real immigration reform would entail a visa program for “low-skilled labor” to help farmers who have trouble finding enough workers.

Stern said a border wall “doesn’t really make much sense to me” and suggested that more federal focus on “the money supply” for organized crime, terrorism, and drug cartels will “ease up” border issues.