Harrisburg, Pa. ( Associated Press) — Conor Lamb is accusing rival John Fetterman in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary of Pennsylvania When leaving candidate forums to avoid talking about a 2013 incident, he confronted a black man with shotgun in hand because he suspected the man was involved in gunfire nearby.
The allegation marks a sharp rise in tone among candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for a crucial Senate seat. In Pennsylvania’s May 17 primary election. The contest to replace retired Republican Sen. Pat Tommy is perhaps the Democrats’ best opportunity to take a seat in the closely divided Senate.
It more directly incorporates issues of race into a campaign that may hinge on which candidate appeals to black voters.
Fetterman – Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor – has spoken before about how he believed he heard gunfire outside his home in the small town of Braddock when he was mayor in 2013. He is said to have followed a mask- and goggles-wearing man, whom he saw running nearby, pulling out a shotgun until police arrived.
The man – Christopher Miares, who is black – was unarmed and later said in a TV interview that he was jogging when Fetterman, who is white, pulled into his pickup and pointed the shotgun.
On Thursday night, third-term Congressman Lamb took to Twitter to raise the episode, which bubbled up just below the surface of a primary campaign that had previously been relatively benign.
“We all know why John Fetterman isn’t coming to the debate on Sunday,” Lamb wrote. “He doesn’t want to talk about the fact that he chased an unarmed black man and held him at gunpoint. That elephant is in the room. And we have to talk about it.”
A third Democrat in the primary, Malcolm Kenyatta, who is black, echoed Lamb. In an interview on Friday, Kenyatta said Fetterman “needs to leave the candidate safety program and really publicly debate his record.”
Fetterman has missed several forums, including one hosted by a predominantly Black church in Philadelphia. He has previously denied avoiding forums for anything other than legitimate scheduling conflicts or unforeseen family circumstances.
His campaign reported Friday that he has agreed to appear in three televised debates in the coming weeks and that Fetterman is joined by several other forums.
A Franklin & Marshall College poll in February found that Fetterman had an early lead in the Democratic primary, but many voters are undecided.
Fetterman’s campaign suggested that Lamb, who is white, is now escalating the encounter because he is not severing ties with voters.
“The people of Braddock understand that, as the city’s mayor and chief law enforcement officer, John was working to keep his community safe,” Fetterman’s campaign advisor Rebecca Katz said in an email.
Braddock – a town that is about 70% black – was reelected 10 months later to Fetterman “because they know the incident had nothing to do with race,” Katz said.
Meanwhile, Fetterman and Miares have accused each other of lying.
Fetterman denies pointing the shotgun at Miares, saying it was not loaded. Furthermore, Fetterman said, he didn’t know Miares’ race when he climbed into his pickup truck to follow him. He also suggested that Miares was involved in some mishap from which he was fleeing.
Police never charged Fetterman or Miares in this case.
In a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer Last year, Miares — writing from the state prison, where he is serving time on an unrelated case — insisted that Fetterman knew he was black and not only pointed the shotgun at him, but also loaded it. .
The subject has shadowed the campaign trail. A political action committee supporting black candidates, including Kenyatta, picked it up early last year and used it in commercials on radio stations popular among Black listeners.
Republicans have also used it to attack Fetterman. But as of Thursday night, a Democratic opponent had not used it in such a public way to go after Fetterman.
Kenyatta and Lamb warn that the episode remains a liability for Fetterman, especially if he wins the primary.
“This is a big problem when we are choosing our candidate for the biggest race in the country,” Lamb wrote on Twitter.
Kenyatta, a state legislator, said the situation could have ended badly for Miares as a black man and that Fetterman’s apology would let people know that he understands he may have made a mistake.
“Over the years, John has failed to apologize for his cautious behavior and does not even acknowledge the fact that what he did was dangerous and wrong,” Kenyatta said.
Follow Mark Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.