It was an evening of meetings that will loom large throughout the next few weeks. The Phillies faced off against the Dodgers for a World Series berth, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama held their final presidential debate, and Rep. Jim Gerlach and his Democratic challenger for Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district seat, Bob Roggio, made their respective cases in the sukkah at Wynnewood's Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El.
Despite the competing high-profile events that night, about 80 people turned out for a "Meet-the-Candidates" forum at the synagogue. The participants each made opening statements before taking questions from the crowd. Both addressed a myriad of issues, including Israel's security, reforming congressional earmarks and the need to develop alternative energy sources, among others.
Not surprisingly, considering the audience, both candidates stressed the importance of America's alliance with Israel and the high priority of monitoring Iran's nuclear ambitions. Gerlach said it was important to continue to exert diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions against Iran.
He called Iran perhaps the top foreign-policy issue heading into next year, and said that the rogue nation "may be" more vulnerable to sanctions as a result of the recent steep drop in oil prices.
For his part, Roggio called Israel "our best ally, and we've got to support them" because "they're under attack constantly." The security of Israel, he said, is "not a Republican or a Democratic issue," though the Democrat chastised President George W. Bush's administration, saying its policies had made Israel less secure today than it had been eight years ago.
Roggio said the war in Iraq had enhanced Iran's power and, like Obama, he emphasized the need for face-to-face negotiations. "But I'm not telling you that's going to work," he said, though he did stress the importance of rebuilding America's alliances around the world as a way of helping to make Israel more secure.
Roggio noted that he had not visited the Jewish state, but said he was "going to go there after the election, whether I'm elected or not."
The Only Fireworks
The only major fireworks of the evening came when an audience member pressed Roggio as to why American Jews should support Obama after the fracas over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"I'm not Barack Obama," Roggio replied, repeatedly calling the Illinois senator "an honorable man."
John McCain's presidential campaign has made congressional earmarks a hot item of debate, and both House candidates touched on the issue. Roggio said there was a role for appropriations, but stressed that there needs to be "a moratorium, because they're not distributed evenly"; he also argued that the process needs to be revamped to include more transparency.
Gerlach said the earmark process has gotten worse in the past decade, but he stressed the importance of appropriations, and argued that legislators "have a constitutional responsibility to appropriate for our communities in a responsible way."
"Let's make it more open, more transparent," he said, adding that proposed earmarks in House bills should have legislator names attached to them, should be debatable on the House floor, and should not be allowed into bills as last-minute additions.
"These projects are good, by and large, but there are some stinkers in there," he said, though he championed the $6 million he'd brought to the nearby Ardmore train station as an example of a proper appropriation of funds.
While the crowd thinned during the break between the candidates, once Roggio concluded his remarks many made a beeline for the door in order to catch either of the night's storied matchups. About a dozen people stuck around for the synagogue's debate-watch party in the Cherry Auditorium.
With Barack Obama largely considered the winner of the debates and the Phillies having won a trip to the World Series, Roggio and Gerlach appear to be in a matchup that may not be decided till the very end.