The question US Senate debate didn’t answer

    In this undated photo combination

    In this undated photo combination

    If you want a good look at three Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania, check out the hour-plus debate they joined in Friday night held by Keystone Progress.

    Watch it on Pennsylvania Cable Network, and you’ll get good sense of who they are and what they stand for, but maybe not enough to tell you who to vote for.

    Former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, and Braddock, Pa. Mayor John Fetterman gave good performances, and agreed on practically everything.

    They competed with each other in their enthusiasm for expanded health care, marriage equality, racial and economic justice, and organized labor. (Another candidate, businessman Joseph John Vodvarka, who holds more conservative views, wasn’t at the debate in Harrisburg.)

    There’s little doubt that any of the three at Friday’s debate would go to Washington as reliable Democratic votes on the big issues that confront Congress.

    So if Democrats want to make a smart choice here, they’ll have to consider a nakedly political question: Which candidate can actually win a general election?

    There are a lot of ways to cut this.

    Is Sestak’s name recognition an important asset? Is big, tattooed John Fetterman just too weird, or exactly the fresh face the party needs? Will Katie McGinty’s energy make her the state’s woman Senator?

    I don’t have answers, but incumbent Republican Pat Toomey is smart, hard-working and well-funded, and will be no pushover.

    Beyond electability, you want a Senator that will run an effective office, do good constituent service, and work seriously on issues beyond marquee battles that will get national headlines.

    So look for someone who’s demonstrated real leadership in the past – someone who works hard, hires and keeps talented staff, and knows how to build coalitions and work with others. Even in polarized Washington, that matters.

    Democrats have nine weeks to look the field over. Should be time enough.

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