Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Debates to play a major role in Pennsylvania's 2024 US Senate election

David McCormick and Bob Casey.
Gene J. Puskar/Marc Levy
Republican David McCormick, left, addressing supporters at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Sept. 21, 2023 and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaking during an event at AFSCME Council 13 offices, March 14, 2024, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania on Thursday proposed a series of debates with his Republican challenger David McCormick leading up to the November general election, and McCormick readily accepted.

The race for a Senate seat in the battleground state is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and to help decide control of the chamber next year.

Casey, in a statement, said he intends to participate in three debates in the fall, one apiece in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg before the Nov. 5 election.

He made the proposal “in keeping with Pennsylvania’s proud history of political debates,” he said. Asked about it at a campaign event, McCormick said it's a good way for the candidates to make their case to the public.

Both Casey and McCormick were uncontested for their party's nominations in Tuesday's primary election, putting them on track for a six-month campaign against each other.

The likelihood of a debate in this year’s presidential race is iffy — and the time-honored tradition of televised debates as a forum for voters to evaluate candidates has declined in recent years.

A series of three debates in the Pennsylvania Senate race would be the most robust conversation between candidates since 2006, when Casey and then-GOP Sen. Rick Santorum had four debates.

In Pennsylvania’s last five U.S. Senate contests since then, debates have not been a major feature. All of those debates took place in mid to late October, with two debates apiece in the 2010, 2016 and 2018 campaigns, and one debate each in the 2012 and 2022 races.

In 2022's Senate race, Democratic nominee John Fetterman — who went on to win the election — agreed to participate in just one debate, as he worked to recover from a stroke that he said nearly killed him and adjust to the lingering effects.

In particular, he had struggled to speak fluidly at times and had a diminished auditory processing speed that made it difficult to respond quickly to what he was hearing.

Fetterman agreed to the debate after weeks of his Republican rival, Dr. Mehmet Oz, pressuring Fetterman and aggressively questioning the severity of his lingering health problems from the stroke.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania's 2022 gubernatorial race, Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican Doug Mastriano did not debate at all.

Rather, Mastriano rejected a media-moderated debate and instead reserved a hotel ballroom two weeks before the election and picked a partisan moderator for himself: a one-time White House staffer who was the director of strategic communications for former President Donald Trump.