Kanjorski Vs. Kanjorski?

GOP Thinks Incumbent May Be His Own Worst Enemy

Posted June 16, 2008 at 6:09pm

Yes, we Kan-jorski?

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) might hope that’s what voters say this cycle, especially now that he faces his most formidable opponent since 2002, when he defeated Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R) in their first matchup.

Barletta is back for more this cycle, but the circumstances are different: After carrying the anti-immigration banner in his northeastern Pennsylvania town for the past few years, Barletta has earned a national profile.

Kanjorski’s district leans Democratic, with 53 percent voting for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for president in 2004, but Republicans see an opportunity in the blue-collar district. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) performed poorly in the district in the April presidential primary, losing by 42 points to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

In a polling memo released Monday by Barletta’s campaign, Barletta led Kanjorski in a ballot test, 47 percent to 42 percent. The Susquehanna Polling and Research survey took the opinion of 400 likely general election voters March 27-29. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 points.

District voters also appeared to know Barletta well: His name identification was at 89 percent — a high number for any challenger.

Kanjorski’s longtime media strategist, Ed Mitchell, declined to comment on the poll.

“It’s our policy not to comment on polls,” Mitchell said. “We would be glad to discuss Mr. Barletta’s strong support for Bush’s war in Iraq, against the minimum wage being raised and for privatization of Social Security.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Carrie James said Barletta will lose if he runs on the issues.

“Clearly, Lou Barletta doesn’t want to defend the fact that he supports privatizing Social Security, nor does he want to talk about the fact that he supports President Bush’s endless war in Iraq. If this campaign is about the issues, Barletta loses,” James said.

But it’s clear that national Democrats are nervous about the district: The DCCC made $26,000 in independent expenditures in the district to pay for polling.

“I think Paul and the people sitting around him know this is a serious race,” said a Democratic operative in the state. “And they’re not going to be caught asleep. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose, but he’s not going to be asleep.”

Kanjorski certainly has not been sleeping on his fundraising job. The 12-term Member had about $1.83 million in the bank compared with Barletta’s $154,500 in cash on hand for the financial period ending April 10.

“Barletta has so little, and $1.8 million dollars goes a long way in Wilkes-Barre,” said the operative. Kanjorski is “really going to have an opportunity to define Lou Barletta and that’s going to count for something given the position that Barletta has taken” on immigration.

But that might be money he’s going to need to spend this cycle. Even with the tide turning blue on a national scale for House Democrats, Kanjorski keeps getting himself into the news with his recorded comments about the Iraq War.

Kanjorski’s comments at an August 2007 town hall were posted on YouTube in May. The 30-second clip of Kanjorski discussing Democrats and the war did not include the original question and the person who asked the question was not shown.

“I’ll tell you my impression,” Kanjorski said on the video. “We really in this last election, when I say we … the Democrats, I think pushed it as far as we can to the end of the fleet — didn’t say it, but we implied it — that if we won the Congressional elections, we could stop the war. Now anybody who’s a good student of government would know it wasn’t true. But you know, the temptation to want to win back the Congress, we sort of stretched the facts. … And people ate it up.”

Kanjorski responded with an official statement from his office on May 23, the day after the clip was posted online.

“In an August 2007 town meeting, I shared the frustration of my constituents that the war in Iraq continued,” Kanjorski said in the statement. “I expressed my belief that some Democrats in 2006 overestimated the ability of a single house of Congress to end the war, particularly in the face of an intransigent President and Senate Republicans who are committed to continuing the war.”

But the tale of the tape does not stop there. When an unknown questioner recently asked Kanjorski about his earlier comments, Kanjorski’s aggravated response was recorded and also put on YouTube. It is unclear when the video was recorded, though it was posted online on June 5. His office released another statement the next day referring back to his previous comments.

“I may have overreacted when this person stuck a camera in my face,” Kanjorski said. “But I feel like it was one of those gotcha moments in politics and my comments were misrepresented.”

The unidentified person who questioned Kanjorski or posted the clips online is not known either by Kanjorski’s office or, apparently, by Barletta’s.

However, Barletta said he has seen both videos and was “disappointed” to see Kanjorski’s comments at the town hall. After seeing the second video, Barletta wondered why Kanjorski did not just walk away from the recorder.

“If you don’t want to answer the questions, just walk away,’” Barletta said. “Again, the video really speaks for itself.”

Barletta knows the controversy game well after he passed an ordinance as mayor in 2006 that took away business licenses from employers and landlords who knowingly employ or take rent from illegal immigrants. The ordinance lost in court, but the town appealed to a higher court in Philadelphia and the case is awaiting review.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of national attention on that, but I expect this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Barletta said.

That national attention could be either a boom or a bust for Barletta’s campaign. He says the hearing is scheduled for late summer or early fall of this year — the height of campaign season.

So far, however, the race is not all about illegal immigration and Republicans instead look forward to making this campaign about Kanjorski.

“This race has quickly become a referendum on Paul Kanjorski’s tenure in Congress,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said. “Given his seemingly corrupt behavior, his opposition to securing the borders and his outrageous comments about the Democrats’ plan to ‘stretch the facts’ on the war in Iraq for political gain, one could safely venture to guess that we are happy to make this campaign about Paul Kanjorski.”