(AP/KDKA) — Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman will reportedly not participate in a primary debate at Muhlenberg College on Sunday.
Fetterman is running for the seat of retired Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey — a seat Democrats are hoping to overturn in this congressional race.
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Conor Lamb accuses Pennsylvania Democratic US Senate primary rival John Fetterman of skipping candidate forums to avoid speaking about a 2013 incident when, shotgun in hand, he confronted a black man because he suspected the man nearby was involved in gunfire.
We all know why John Fetterman is not coming to the debate on Sunday.
He doesn’t want to talk about stalking and holding an unarmed black man at gunpoint.
That’s the elephant in the room. And we need to talk about that. pic.twitter.com/eiGx1Yoqz8
— Conor Lamm (@ConorLambPA) March 31, 2022
The accusation more directly inserts racial issues into a campaign that could depend on which candidate appeals to black voters. It could also harm Fetterman and his party, as they have a key voting bloc whose support would be important should he become the Democratic nominee in November’s general election.
The allegation marks a sharp escalation in tone between candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the May 17 Pennsylvania Senate primary. The contest to succeed outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is perhaps the Democrats’ best opportunity to win a seat in the tightly divided Senate.
Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Fetterman has insisted he does not skip forums for such reasons and has repeatedly claimed that he acted as the mayor concerned about public safety and confronted the man without knowing his race.
Fetterman has previously spoken about how he thought he heard gunshots outside his home in the small town of Braddock when he was mayor in 2013. He said he chased a mask and goggles-wearing man he saw walking, head covered, near toe in the cold January weather and pulled out a shotgun until police arrived.
The man – Christopher Miyares, who is black – was unarmed and later said in a TV interview he was out jogging when Fetterman, who is white, pulled up in his pickup truck and pointed the shotgun at him. Fetterman has denied pointing the shotgun at Miyares, saying it was unloaded.
On Thursday night, Lamb, a third-term congressman, took to Twitter to address the episode simmering just beneath the surface of a primary campaign that had previously been relatively heartfelt.
“We all know why John Fetterman isn’t coming to the debate on Sunday,” Lamb wrote. “He doesn’t want to talk about stalking and holding an unarmed black man at gunpoint. That’s the elephant in the room. And we need to talk about that.”
A third Democrat in the primary, Malcolm Kenyatta, who is black, echoed Lamb. In an interview Friday, Kenyatta said Fetterman “needs to exit the candidate protection program and actually debate his record publicly.”
Fetterman has missed several forums, including one hosted by a predominantly black church in Philadelphia. He has previously denied avoiding forums for anything other than legitimate scheduling conflicts or unforeseen family circumstances.
His campaign noted Friday that it has agreed to participate in three televised debates in the coming weeks and that Fetterman has joined numerous other forums.
A February poll by Franklin & Marshall College found that Fetterman appeared to have an early lead in the Democratic primary, but many voters are undecided.
Fetterman’s campaign indicated that Lamb, who is white, is now addressing the encounter because he is not breaking through with voters.
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“Braddock residents understand that as the city’s mayor and chief law enforcement officer, John acted to protect his community,” Rebecca Katz, an adviser to Fetterman’s campaign, said in an email.
Braddock — a town that’s about 70% black — Fetterman re-elected 10 months later “because they know this incident has nothing to do with race,” Katz said.
Meanwhile, Fetterman and Miyares have accused each other of lying.
Fetterman said he was unaware of Miyares’ breed when he got into his pickup truck to give chase. He has also implied that Miyares was involved in something unusual which he was running away from.
Police have never charged Fetterman or Miyares in this matter.
In a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer last year, Miyares — writing from the state prison where he is serving time on an unrelated case — insisted Fetterman knew he was black and pointed the shotgun not only at him, but she also invited. But, He also reportedly wrote that the incident was not intended to stop Fetterman’s campaign.
The issue has overshadowed the campaign trail. A political action committee supporting black candidates, including Kenyatta, raised it early last year and used it in advertisements for radio stations popular with black listeners.
Republicans have also used it to attack Fetterman. But as of Thursday night, a Democratic rival hadn’t used it as publicly to go after Fetterman.
Kenyatta and Lamb warn that the episode remains a burden on Fetterman, especially if he wins the primary.
“This is a huge problem when we’re picking our contender for the biggest race in the country,” Lamb wrote on Twitter.
Kenyatta, a state lawmaker, said the situation could have ended badly for Miyares as a black man and an apology from Fetterman would show people he understands he may have made a mistake.
“For years, John has failed to apologize for his vigilantism and does not even take responsibility for the fact that what he did was dangerous and wrong,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta also criticized Fetterman’s plans not to attend and retweeted a related article from The Morning Call newspaper with a screenshot of the word “cowardice” and its definition.
— Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (@malcolmkenyatta) April 1, 2022
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https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2022/04/02/john-fetterman-missing-senate-debate/ Senate candidate John Fetterman will miss this weekend’s primary debate – CBS Pittsburgh