Yet as the buzz around the race, one of the most closely watched in this midterm season, intensified, Fitzpatrick and Wallace refrained from discussing their differences in person.
That changed Oct. 14, when the candidates for Pennsylvania’s 1st District met at Shir Ami in Newtown for a fiery debate full of snippy one-liners, accusations of lies from both sides and the revelation of an endorsement.
In early October, Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, endorsed Fitzpatrick, which the incumbent referenced when asked about gun control. Wallace offered a rebuttal that seemed to surprise Fitzpatrick: “You mentioned Michael Bloomberg endorsing you. I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Today, he endorsed me.”
Bloomberg’s endorsement of Wallace is separate from Everytown, Wallace spokesperson Zoe Wilson-Meyer said later.
In the months since the candidates won their respective primary elections, Fitzpatrick has consistently been labeled the favorite by pollsters. Wallace has closed the gap in recent weeks, though. The Cook Political Report, FiveThirtyEight, the Center for Politics and Inside Elections all label the race a toss-up.
Wallace sought to capitalize on that momentum Oct. 14, routinely attacking President Donald Trump and criticizing Fitzpatrick for voting with Trump too often. Early on, he referred to himself as being on the “Democrat team” and Fitzpatrick as being on the “Republican team.”
“I cannot stand to hear that language, Scott. That is what is broken about our country,” Fitzpatrick said, glaring at his opponent. The Republican frequently referred to himself as a moderate, citing his membership in the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan House group comprised of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans.
For all of the talk of reaching across the aisle, the hyperpartisanship permeating the national political scene was on display the night of the debate. The entrance to Shir Ami was crowded with about a dozen Fitzpatrick supporters waving campaign signs. On the other side, a single woman sat amid a smattering of signs, including one that read “Ditch Fitz.” A group of men with the pro-Israel community handed out fliers in the parking lot.
For some constituents, the debate did little to challenge preexisting beliefs.
“I thought Fitzpatrick’s demeanor — he was volatile, and started personally attacking Wallace,” said Zachary Rubin, a Lower Makefield Township resident.
The last question of the night elicited a collective chuckle from the crowd; Fitzpatrick and Wallace were asked to cite one issue on which they agreed with their opponent.
The candidates expressed similar viewpoints on Israel (both supported two-state solution) and health care (both bemoaned cost and access issues) earlier in the night, but when given the opportunity to explicitly find common ground, both candidates demurred.
“Do I get time to think about that? What do I agree with Scott on?” Fitzpatrick said to the question posed by the moderator, Jewish Exponent Editor-in-Chief Joshua Runyan, pausing. “You know, I wish I could answer that question. … Nothing comes to mind, to be honest, that I can think of.”
As Fitzpatrick struggled to find words, a member of the audience tried to help: “You don’t agree with funding BDS!”
In May, Wallace was criticized in the wake of the news that the Wallace Global Fund donated money to organizations supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel while he served as co-chair of the organization. Wallace has repeatedly denied his involvement in the donations and denounced the BDS movement, and he did so again. It was one of the few times Israel was discussed during the debate.
“The fact that this took place in a synagogue with a largely Jewish audience; there should’ve and could’ve been more questions of relevance to the Jewish community,” said Steve Feldman, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America Greater Philadelphia District.
Fitzpatrick and Wallace are scheduled to appear at a candidate forum hosted by the Bucks County Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters of Bucks County at Delaware Valley University on Oct. 19.