The third time may well be the proverbial charm for Lou Barletta and his quixotic bid to unseat veteran Democratic Rep.Paul Kanjorski.
Kanjorski, the influential senior Financial Services Committee member and frequent “Squawk Box” guest on CNBC, is fighting nothing less than a legacy-challenging battle to keep his seat.
Kanjorski was instrumental in putting together this year’s financial reform legislation, particularly the areas that addressed the too-big-to-fail institutions that triggered the credit crisis. So his seat is a biggie in terms of the Washington governmental structure.
As a 13-term incumbent representing northeastern Pennsylvania, Kanjorski had been breezing through election after election until Barletta started challenging him in 2002.
Kanjorski pulled out the first race with some breathing room, but barely squeaked by in 2008.
Barletta, the Republican mayor of Hazleton, a 25,000-population burg near the southernmost reaches of Kanjorski’s district, is a darling of the Tea Party right for, among other things, an equally quixotic battle against illegal immigration. Though a district court recently delivered the second setback for a Barletta-sponsored proposal that would have penalized businesses and landlords who accommodate illegal immigrants, his popularity has only been cemented further in the Democrat-heavy district.
This despite the struggles of his city to survive a dwindling tax base and residents overwhelmed by economic malaise.
Barletta says Republican-sponsored polling shows him up double-digits, though national pundits generally place the race in the toss-up category or leaning Republican.
So a little personal insight: I’ve been covering Paul Kanjorski since he entered national politics in 1984, and covered Lou Barletta’s first failed run for City Council in 1995 and his subsequent mayoral victory in 1999.
I’m a Hazleton guy by origin, though I moved out going on a decade ago. And I can tell you that if there’s a throw-the-bums-out region anywhere in this country, it’s in Kanjorski’s district, which encompasses parts of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area and the Pocono Mountains corridor.
Luzerne County is easily the most corrupt area in Pennsylvania (which is saying something) and arguably the most corrupt county in the nation. Over the past couple of years more than 30 public officials have been arrested and sentenced to jail terms. The cases include two judges charged with shipping juvenile offenders off to a detention center in exchange for kickbacks from its owner, in what has come to be known as the Cash for Kids scandal.
It’s nasty stuff and most if not all the offenders are Democrats and part of the same political machine that has helped fuel Kanjorski’s career. Needless to say, the folks back home are mad as hell.
Long story short: It’s entirely possible Kanjorski may pull out the victory. It certainly wouldn’t be the first rabbit he’s pulled out of his hat in his charmed political career.
But his district is ground zero for the anti-incumbent fever sweeping the nation.
Should Barletta pull out the win it could mean big changes not only for that little corner of Pennsylvania, but also the nation’s banking system.
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