Brian Fitzpatrick, Scott Wallace Spar at Shir Ami Debate

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Joshua Runyan-Scott Wallace-Brian Fitzpatrick
Democrat Scott Wallace (center) and Republican U.S. Rep Brian Fitzpatrick (right) engaged in a fiery debate at Shir Ami in Newtown on Oct. 14. Debate moderator and Jewish Exponent editor-in-chief Joshua Runyan is at left. | Photos by Alan Rosenberg

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Democratic challenger Scott Wallace have circled each other for months, leveling attacks in television ads, speeches and social media posts.

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.

Scott Wallace
Scott Wallace mingles with supporters.

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. 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Fitzpatrick is a true patriot, who really cares about his one and only country, and his very concerned, loyal district constituents, by contributing moderate congressional stability to enable the United States to proceed on a course of power and prestige. Anyone else would not be serving us American-Pennsylvanian citizens to his high-quality standards.

  2. More than a dozen years ago, I discovered that the Democratic Party is infested with anti-Semites. I became an independent never to vote again for the anti-Semitic party, the Democratic Party, not even for dog catcher. I survived the Shoah, so I can’t possibly risk my vote to go to anti-Semites.

  3. Word that Wallace supports Mumia “The Cop Killer.” How then could any decent person vote for this extremely leftist character? Police officer Danny Faulkner’s widowed wife sure won’t.

    • Word from Chris Stigall WPHT 1210 talk radio this morning is that he “heard” Wallace dropped the “f” Bomb at this debate. Don’t listen to liars and that’s what Chris Stigall is. Innuendo a statement like that, and do the “just sayin” thing is how WPHT 1210 keeps people like you in their base.

  4. And yet, Mr. Reingewirtz, all the neo-Nazis and white supremacists have landed with the Republicans. You might have to reassess whatever you discovered a decade ago. This is the time for reinstating the checks and balances our wise forefathers intended. The GOP-led Congress have abdicated their responsibility in keeping those in power accountable, in favor of tax cuts for the rich, I guess, though, I dare say there might be some more nefarious explanations. Wallace is beholding to no one except his constituency, since he has basically self funded. I don’t even think Fitzpatrick wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps any longer. He does seem more suited for California.

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