Democrats running to challenge Perry talk issues and skills in candidates’ forum • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

HERSHEY— Five Democrats running to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-York) in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District answered a variety of questions during a forum on Wednesday to try to demonstrate why they’re the best candidate to take on the six-term Republican in November.

The forum at the Hershey Free Public Library was organized by Hershey Indivisible, a grassroots organization aimed at promoting civic engagement, and was moderated by former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq. 

Janelle Stelson, a former longtime anchor at WGAL-TV, was the only Democratic candidate slated to be on the April primary ballot who did not participate in  Wednesday’s forum.

A spokesperson from Hershey Indivisible said Stelson had confirmed she would participate, but later declined to attend. The Stelson campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

In an effort to touch on as many topics as possible, the candidates were asked varied questions throughout the forum. Each candidate was asked what they believed to be the most pressing issue for Congress to address next year and how they would approach it.

“We need to make sure that our economy is handled and that all of the loopholes are closed with regards to income and disparity,” said Blake Lynch, a former WITF executive. “And then that our health, our mental health and all the other struggles that make us proud, are accomplished and taken care of.”

Lynch said the rising cost of housing and the barrier of student debt toward future success were also key issues, that if addressed, could help make the next generation successful. 

Mike O’Brien, a retired Marine, said “freedom” should be a top priority, to ensure future generations have security.

“Real freedom… freedom from having to live paycheck to paycheck, the freedom to feel safe in our communities in schools, free from gun violence, free from crime, the freedom to exercise the right to an abortion and last but not least, political freedom,” he said.

Shamaine Daniels, a Harrisburg City Councilwoman who was the party nominee against Perry in 2022, said the biggest issue on the table is immigration. She argued that immigration reform could have a positive impact on many issues, including addressing a shortage of medical professionals.

“We also need to normalize the tax base as someone who has represented a city that’s financially distressed,” Daniels said. “The power when you liberate a bunch of people to be the most productive they could possibly be could help our city in ways that are unimaginable today.” 

Businessman John Broadhurst said erasing medical debt, addressing child care, and the housing crisis are areas where he is focused.

“Defending and strengthening democracy is our most pressing issue,” said Rick Coplen, an Army veteran and Carlisle School Board member. 

Support for Biden

At several points during the forum, candidates expressed support for President Joe Biden, who appears to be facing a rematch in November against Donald Trump. 

“It’s clear that we as Democrats, and I am going to absolutely do this, send a clear message that the Biden administration is doing, I think, an excellent job in managing our economy and building jobs and doing all sorts of things to help people across the board,” Coplen said, although he added that “a lot more can be done.” 

Lynch said that his neighbors and voters “aren’t feeling it,” with respect to Coplen’s assessment on the economy, adding that Perry has been too busy fighting culture wars instead of helping out Main Street. 

“There are positive aspects about what Joe Biden has done when he gets back to his Pennsylvania roots, when he supports America’s workers specifically,” O’Brien said. “He’s the most pro-union president in history.” 

International issues

Broadhurst described the ongoing war in the Middle East as “the moral issue of our time” and said efforts should be made to help end the war immediately, rebuild Gaza, and support the creation of a Palestinian state. He also offered a caution to President Joe Biden for his handling of the issue, saying the issue could cost the Democrats the presidential election. 

Daniels said that “we need to stand up for our moral values and we also need to be strategic and how we approach global politics,” and called Israel’s strategy against Gaza “immoral.”

“And if we are going to be a good ally to Israel, we need to make sure that Israel is not just operating from a military perspective, but also operating from a perspective of securing the region,” Daniels said. “Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to live with each other.” 

Broadhurst argued that the war was not divisive. “It’s immoral, it’s unjust, and the United States is the only power that can bring this to an end now, and it’s got to stop the killing,” Broadhurst said. 

Asked about immigration and the current conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, Lynch said it was an issue that had to be addressed. “President Obama was strong on that during his administration,” Lynch said, adding the Biden administration should revisit those policies. 

Closing statements

Each candidate gave a closing statement explaining what unique skills they would bring to the role. 

Coplen detailed his experience in the military and as a school board member and his ability to bring people together.

“I firmly believe that we can solve our most challenging problems if we collectively have the wisdom to say government can’t solve all the problems,” Coplen said. “Private sector can’t solve all the problems, religious organizations cannot solve all the problems. But if we work together and make all that happen, we can.”

Broadhurst said living overseas for about 20 years had given him a very different perspective of the U.S.

“I think in order to win this district, not just the primary, in order to win the district, we have to bring new people into the process,” Broadhurst said, mentioning African American voters, Muslim voters, and low-income people as those whose voices should be heard. 

Despite losing to Perry in 2022 by 7 points, Daniels argued that her campaign had accomplished a lot, adding that the district has shifted to the left since redistricting and she already knows “Perry’s playbook.”

“Scott Perry is vulnerable. We know that he is in a very difficult position,” Daniels said. “And the national Democrats are targeting this race because they know that Democrats can win. So I want to ask you to support the Democrat that you know is a Democrat, who has stood by you as a Democrat, rather than support people who you just hope are Democrats.”

O’Brien said authenticity, humility, and honesty win elections and said he has the resume, resources, and coalition to defeat Perry. 

“And the way that I’m going to defeat Scott Perry,” he said. “With a resume, I’m gonna challenge him on his oath of office, take everything he holds up as advantages, freedom, patriotism, national service and leadership, turn those into disadvantages.”

As he did often throughout the forum, Lynch touted his roots in the district, where he’s lived his whole life. “You should have a tested, proven local person that lives amongst you representing you,” Lynch said. “This job is about local representation.” 

Throughout the forum, candidates rarely addressed each other directly, although Broadhurst criticized O’Brien for challenging his nomination petitions

Perry, a former Chair of the conservative Freedom House Caucus, is seeking his seventh term in Congress. He’s currently the only Republican candidate on the primary ballot. He is one of two Pennsylvania Republicans on the Democratic Campaign Committee’s 2024 target list of incumbents to unseat, as they aim to flip the House back to a Democratic majority. 

Multiple national ratings outlets view the race in the 10th Congressional District as leaning towards the Republican. 

The Perry campaign did not reply to the Capital-Star’s request for comment about the forum.

The 10th Congressional district includes all of Dauphin County and parts of Cumberland and York Counties. 

The Pennsylvania primary election is April 23.

Originally published at,by John Cole

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