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Rally With Trump Comes At A Crucial Time For Barletta

July 30, 2018
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Rally With Trump Comes At A Crucial Time For Barletta

President Donald Trump will arrive Thursday in Wilkes-Barre Twp. at a critical time for U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta’s Senate campaign.

The only independent polls so far have shown Barletta, the Hazleton Republican, trailing Sen. Bob Casey, the Scranton Democrat, by double digits. Barletta’s campaign lags badly in the crucial campaign money race, he shuffled its top staff recently and none of the major congressional race rating services give him much of a chance.

Barletta could use a jolt and Trump’s fifth visit to Northeast Pennsylvania in a bit more than two years could provide one. It follows Vice President Mike Pence stumping and raising money for Barletta last Monday in Philadelphia.

“The polls have not been looking good,” said E. Fletcher McClellan, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County. “He’s way underfunded compared to the war chest that Sen. Casey has and he’s tied himself very closely to Trump. As much as Trump can be loyal to anybody, Barletta was an early supporter and I think he wants to give him a boost.”

The president’s rally is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, ironically, a venue named partly after Bob Casey’s father, the late Gov. Robert P. Casey, who provided half the state funding to build it.

Trump spoke at two raucous rallies there during the 2016 presidential campaign, but he might especially relish backing Barletta and perhaps needling Casey in a building named after the senator’s father.

“I think he clearly sees an opportunity (for a Barletta victory) in Pennsylvania so that’s why he’s coming,” said David Jackson, a spokesman for Barletta’s campaign. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to set the stage for us going into the fall.”

It is.

A sitting president campaigning for a Senate candidate of his party is hardly unusual, but it hasn’t happened much in Northeast Pennsylvania — at least not lately. President Barack Obama never campaigned locally for House or Senate candidates. Neither did President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, or President Bill Clinton, who stumped for Joe Sestak’s 2010 Senate campaign at Scranton High School not long after he left office.

They didn’t really need to come. Northeast Pennsylvania and the state long had entrenched House members — Rep. Paul Kanjorski and the late Rep. Joe McDade, for example — and Senate members — Sen. Arlen Specter and Sen. John Heinz, both now deceased — who, election after election, faced only token opposition in uncompetitive races.

The last sitting president who campaigned in Northeast Pennsylvania for a congressional candidate was President George W. Bush, who showed up at Keystone College in October 2006, to support incumbent Republican Rep. Don Sherwood. Amid a personal scandal, Sherwood faced a tough test from Democratic political science professor Chris Carney.

Sherwood lost, Carney won.

It wasn’t a presidential visit, but Vice President Joe Biden stumped in 2010, in Dickson City for Carney, who faced a stiff test against Republican former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino.

Carney lost, Marino won.

Big guns showing up don’t always translate into victory.

Nonetheless, Barletta can especially use the help. The independent polls so far — one each by Franklin & Marshall College, The Morning Call/Muhlenberg College and Suffolk University — had Barletta trailing by 15 to 17 percentage points. That’s certainly a key reason the major trackers of congressional races give him little chance. The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections rate the race as “likely Democratic” while Sabato’s Crystal Ball calls it a “safe Democratic” seat.

Last week, Barletta shook up his campaign a bit. He brought in a veteran hand who consulted on his 2010 congressional campaign, Vince Galko, as a general consultant and Rick Santorum presidential campaign staffer Matt Beynon as communications director. He also announced his former congressional office press secretary and 2016 congressional campaign manager, Jon Anzur, as campaign manager. Galko and Beynon grew up in Lackawanna County.

Trump shook up his campaign a couple of times.

“It’s not unusual,” McClellan said. “It’s not ideal, but there’s a history of successful candidates who have rebooted and gotten a new message or a new strategy.”

Trump’s visit could also signal to potential donors that he’s all in on Barletta, who really needs more money.

“Absolutely. He thinks that his support is like a magic charm,” McClellan said. “It will energize the faithful and get some money and get some urgency back into the campaign.”

Casey’s campaign had $9.88 million in cash left at the end of June to Barletta’s $1.55 million, according to their latest quarterly campaign finance report, levels virtually identical to their previous reports filed in late April.

Trump also feels loyalty toward Barletta, who has acted nothing if not loyal to the president. They grew close after Barletta became one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump. Barletta stumped for him relentlessly and advised his campaign in Pennsylvania, which Trump won, the first time a Republican won the state since the first President Bush in 1988.

Trump even interviewed Barletta for a cabinet post — Barletta said the president offered secretary of labor. When Barletta didn’t jump, Trump moved on, but the president called him personally and encouraged his Senate bid.

Barletta has staunchly supported Trump’s policies, including defending the president’s highly controversial policy of separating parents and children seeking to enter the United States from Mexico.

“Barletta is hoping to take advantage of the enthusiasm that Trump generated during the 2016 campaign,” said Thomas J. Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University, who expects another Trump visit this fall. “Barletta’s big challenge will be to have the voters who came out for Trump come out for him.”

Contact the writer:

bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9147

@BorysBlogTT

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