Rep hopefuls visit campus for debate

With only 13 days left until the Nov. 2 midterm elections, Kathy Dahlkemper (R Pa. 3rd) will aim to defend her seat in the House of Representatives at tonight’s debate against competitor and political newcomer Mike Kelly.

The debate will be moderated by Center for Political Participation Director and Political Science Professor Dan Shea and Meadville Tribune political reporter Keith Gushard.  It will feature an hour-long moderated session of questions and responses from 7 to 8 p.m. and another hour of live televised questions from the audience and callers from across the district.

Mike Kelly, owner of a car dealership, resides in Butler and serves on the board of various auto dealership councils and charities, according to his website. Incumbent Kathy Dahlkemper, from Erie, defeated long-term Representative Phil English (R) in 2008 as part of the sweeping turnaround in Congress that took place that year. Many believe the upcoming midterm election will usher in another such turnaround.

This election is increasingly coming to resemble a referendum on unpopular policies passed by the current democratic administration and a general frustration with a lack of action on the still-recessional economy.  According to an Oct. 19 Gallup poll, only 21 percent of the nation is satisfied with the “way things are going in the United States” right now, lower than any satisfaction level during a midterm election over the past 25 years.

Tellingly, Kelly had a seven percent lead over Dahlkemper in a poll conducted by the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics and the Erie Times-News, although 40 percent of those polled admitted to not recognizing his name.

Both candidates hope to bring their names, faces and proposed policies to the Meadville community at tonight’s debate. A representative from Dahlkemper’s campaign expressed the Congresswoman’s hope to emphasize the job-creating measures she’s developed during her tenure in Congress.

“Kathy’s working very hard to make sure when people graduate from school there are jobs here in the region, working to help small businesses get the credit they need, working to make sure that manufacturers are strong,” the staffer said.

Kelly, however, plans to focus on the recent spending increases created by Congress.

“Mike will be focusing on the issues he has been talking about this entire campaign. Fixing out [sic] economy & Washington’s Out-of-Control spending that is bankrupting our country,” Kelly Spokesperson Brad Moore said in an e-mail.

College Republican President Derek Dye, ’11, expressed concern over the same issue that has formed the centerpiece of the Kelly campaign.

“My father spent the last two years unemployed,” he explained, “and it’s been really hard to watch the [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi Congress vote for every spending bill that’s come down the pike.”

“Four trillion dollars worth of spending and we’re still waiting on a job—interview after interview after interview and still we have nothing.”

Steven Jones, ‘’12, president of the College Democrats, sees healthcare—a contentious issue for both parties—as one of the most important subjects to address at the debate.

“Kathy’s initiative [the Young Adult Healthcare Act] lets us stay on our parents’ plans until we’re 26,” he explained, referring to a provision of the health care reform law introduced by Dahlkemper.

Although their issue positions certainly differ, the presidents of both the College Democrats and Republicans agree that students should make the effort to attend the debate, or, at the very least, inform themselves.

“I know that, especially during the midterm elections, a lot of the time people aren’t really up-to-date on what’s going on with different candidates,” Dye said. “They don’t really understand where each of their stances are, what party they’re even with.”

Jones suggested those students unable to make the debate should check online to find highlights of the event or try to watch from home.

“If you’re getting ready to vote, you should know your candidates,” he said.