On Oct. 8, the two major candidates for Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District race came to Mercyhurst University to debate.
Republican Mike Kelly and Democrat Ron DiNicola faced off in an hour-long debate in the Performing Arts Center.
I was one of the fortunate students who managed to get a seat to the debacle, and I have to say, it was what I can only describe as a surreal experience.
Before I start, I want to get my political views on the table.
I was biased going into this debate, and I think it’s only fair you all know my biases going into this analysis.
I’m a progressive.
I support progressive policy and support progressive candidates.
I supported Bernie Sanders back in the 2016 primary, though I did come around to Hillary Clinton for the general.
I went into this debate supporting DiNicola.
Just keep that context in mind as you read this article.
This debate hurt my opinion of both candidates.
Not equally, mind you.
Kelly came away from it much worse than DiNicola.
Kelly consistently came off as simultaneously defensive and aggressive.
He would act as a sweet old man one second only to scream at DiNicola the next.
Kelly seemed unable to answer a question without tying it back into the tax bill Republicans passed last year.
He seemed to attribute everything good that’s happened in Erie over the past year to the tax bill, while pinning everything bad on DiNicola and the Democrats.
At one point, Kelly all but blamed college students for the amount of student debt they have to take on.
In one particularly horrible moment regarding the Kavanaugh hearings, he all but said that Ford’s allegations were made up by the Democrats to take down Kavanaugh.
Then you have his endless petty insults.
Look, political mudslinging is a part of the game, I know.
And this is the Trump Era, where we’re all encouraged to be as awful as we can to one another as much as possible.
But there has to be a line somewhere around here — there just has to be.
Kelly seemed to seek out lines to cross throughout the debate, going so far as to attack DiNicola for upholding his responsibility as a public defender to, you know, defend his clients in court, even if those clients are awful people.
The worst thing Kelly said came during the middle of the debate.
To set some context, DiNicola is a Marine veteran.
This fact had come up before in the debate itself, as DiNicola brought it up several times.
In the middle of the debate, DiNicola mentioned the word “killing.”
Kelly responded with something to the tune of, “Well, you know a lot more about killing than me.”
This was completely, totally uncalled for.
It crosses the line several times over.
Not only is it just an immature petulant jab during what’s supposed to be a professional debate, it’s also absurdly disrespectful to our troops and veterans.
Can you imagine Kelly saying this to a random veteran he found on the street, instead of to his political opponent?
I am honestly in awe that this statement somehow didn’t make national news.
None of this is to say that DiNicola was perfect.
Firstly, DiNicola did play the same mudslinging game Kelly did.
Even worse, he did this while talking about the importance of compromise and working together.
That’s far from the end of my complaints with him, however.
DiNicola flaked and floundered on many questions that he really should’ve had a solid answer to.
The best example of this is his stance on the recent Senate confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
When asked by the panel if he would’ve voted to confirm Kavanaugh, DiNicola gave an evasive non-answer that satisfied no one.
DiNicola also flaked on health care.
When asked if he supported revamping Obamacare, moving to single-payer, or doing something else entirely, DiNicola dodged the question.
He instead started ranting at length about pharmaceutical companies and how, if elected, he would take them on.
Don’t get me wrong, pharmaceutical companies are the literal worst.
But it was a blatant attempt to dodge answering a question he didn’t want to answer.
Every politician says they’re going to do something about Big Pharma, but not many actually do anything about it.
My biggest issue with the two participants was their unwillingness to address the root cause of many of the problems they discussed.
A great example of this was how they talked about gun violence in schools.
When the issue was brought up, both candidates gave general platitudes about what they had done in the past that could, if you squint and tilt your head, be perceived as helping to fix the problem.
For example, Kelly talked about how he got money for school safety to come into Erie.
DiNicola talked about what he had done, and what he would do if elected, to help curb gun violence in schools.
The issue is that, in both cases, the candidates danced around the actual issue at hand — that being, guns.
The root problem of gun violence in America is the ready access to firearms.
It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at school safety or how many teachers you arm with guns or baseball bats.
Guns are the issue, and until this root cause is addressed, they will continue to be the issue.
And talking around the issue at hand like this doesn’t play well with all but the most fervent partisans.
This debate ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth.
Kelly’s stances had little to back them up, and his behavior was far below one of his office.
On the other hand, DiNicola flaked on far too many things for me to view him as a strong candidate.
It seemed to me that he was so afraid of losing the moderate vote that he didn’t want to commit to any policy that could even vaguely hurt his reputation with that group.
I’ll still ultimately be voting for DiNicola come November.
He was, despite my complaints, easily the better of the two candidates.
But this debate did hurt my view of him.