Barletta will be Shamokin-Mount Carmel area's new congressman
HAZLETON - Flanked by family and framed by the blue and red "Lou" posters that populate this town every other autumn, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta celebrated a decisive re-election victory Tuesday night over Gene Stilp, the pesky Democratic activist who totes an inflatable swine named Pignelope in a decades long crusade for government reform.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, pigs are not going to fly tonight," Barletta, a Republican, joked as he
spoke to a crowd of about 150 supporters at Mea's Restaurant, a few blocks from the city hall where he served as mayor for 11 years.
Barletta led Stilp 146,794 votes to 105,091 votes, or 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent, with 85 percent of the state's tally counted. Barletta outperformed in all nine counties the reconfigured district touches, including Stilp's adopted home county of Dauphin.
Barletta led in Columbia, Carbon, Cumberland and Perry counties by close to a 2-to-1 margin and dominated Stilp in Luzerne County, where they both share ties, by a 13 percent margin of 40,290 votes to 30,368 votes, with 85 percent tallied. Barletta easily won in Northumberland County, too, 12,578 to 7,975.
Barletta wielded the power of incumbency, earned two years ago in his third attempt to replace 13-term Democrat Paul Kanjorski, to secure a second term.
He used the name recognition garnered from his tenure as mayor and his first-term in Congress to build a sizable warchest and a healthy cushion against the underfunded Stilp. He raised 14 times more money than Stilp and outspent him by a 16-to-1 margin, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Barletta raised $1.2 million and spent $871,018 between Jan. 1, 2011 and Oct. 17. Stilp raised $84,079 and spent $54,198 over the same span.
Barletta, in his address, lamented the departure of communities like Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Jim Thorpe from the district but said he welcomed the addition of new constituents in Dauphin and Cumberland counties and other points south - areas where he performed well on Tuesday night despite voters' lack of familiarity.
The problems there, Barletta said, of unemployment and a poor economic climate for small business and family farms, are the same as in the portions of the district that have remained intact after the decennial redistricting process completed last year. That process, known as gerrymandering, was meant to dilute the plurality of Democrats and strengthen Barletta's chances at re-election.
In his next term, Barletta said, he would work to repeal the health care overhaul pushed by President Barack Obama and reverse defense budget cuts that would kick in at year's end if Congress does not reach a compromise on federal spending. He said he would continue to push for the elimination of regulations that he said are stifling the growth of small businesses and would work toward passage of his bill to ensure lower interest rates on Small Business Administration loans granted in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the record flooding along the Susquehanna River in September 2011.
"They're the problems facing all Americans. They're the problems I want to fix in Washington," Barletta said. "They're why you're sending me back to Washington and they're what I am going to tackle over the next two years."
Barletta's bill passed the Republican-controlled House but stalled in the Democratic-led Senate. He will face the same party divide in his next term.
Barletta strolled onto the stage at Mea's to the tones of "Louie, Louie," some 14 hours after casting his ballot at the city's South Side fire station. He visited polling places in the southern end of the district before returning to Hazleton to watch the results.
Supporters watched results on a television tuned to NBC and noshed on hoagies, pizza, fruit and pasta salads and cut vegetables and sipped from bottles of Yuengling, Miller Light and Coors Light packed in buckets on a buffet table along the far wall.
Stilp, of Middle Paxton Township, Dauphin County, defeated Wilkes-Barre attorney Bill Vinsko 18,604 votes to 15,462, or 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent, in the April primary, despite spending 74 cents per vote compared with Vinsko's $6.63 per vote.
Stilp brought the same grassroots approach to the race again Barletta, using his tandem of buses, oversized props and a ubiquitous inflatable pink pig - a symbol of his crusade against government waste - to stoke interest and generate visibility in place of costly radio and television advertising.
He spent the day driving one of his two campaign buses - a converted white school bus - to polling places throughout the district and meeting with voters. He watched results at a diner in Dauphin County.
As of 11 p.m., Stilp did not call Barletta to concede the race and did not return a reporter's telephone message. Barletta, on stage, praised Stilp for a hard fought race and wished him luck in the future. Then he pivoted to his next term and the next generations he said he would serve through his work in Congress.
"The election isn't about us. It's about the future generations of this country. Our children and grandchildren need us," Barletta said. "I will never embarrass you, I will never disappoint you and I will never let you down."