NANTICOKE, PA | Former President Bill Clinton told roughly a thousand Democrats in hard-hit northeast Pennsylvania Tuesday that if they base their vote on anger and toss out their Democratic congressman they will be making a mistake, and pleaded with voters to give President Obama’s policies two more years to work.
“Whenever you make an important decision when you are mad, there is an 80 percent chance you will make the wrong decision,” Clinton said, campaigning for Rep. Paul Kanjorski, the 26-year congressman who is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Lou Barletta in a part of the state where unemployment is over 10 percent.
A new poll out Wednesday morning – a snapshot of the district’s voters one week ago – showed Barletta up 48 to 43 percent, with eight percent of voters undecided.
“Every Republican in the country wants this to be a referendum on your being mad, or disappointed or frustrated. Well, there’s plenty to be mad about, plenty to be anxious about,” Clinton said. “But an election is an employment decision. It is not a referendum. It’s a choice.”
He then went on to speak for roughly 45 minutes, going into great detail to argue that Republicans are irresponsible with the federal deficit and that their proposed policies would do more harm than good. He also sought to put as good a face on President Obama’s policies as he could.
“There is always a gap between the time when you do things that will help and the time people can feel it,” Clinton said of Obama’s policies. “This election is occurring in the gap. So if the other side would just get you to quit thinking and just vote your frustrations, it’s a referendum on your feelings … and you’ll make a mistake.”
Clinton spoke at length about why he thinks the $814 billion stimulus has been unfairly maligned, and said Republicans would “cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs” if they canceled the program before all the money was spent. He said that unemployment would have been two percent higher if the program had not been enacted.
“Two-thirds of it was not designed to get us out of the hole. It was to allow us to swim and not drown in the hole while we were trying to get out.”
He said that every Republican president in recent history has increased the size of government but that when he left office in 2001 he left it the same size as it was in 1960, a claim that is debatable depending on how you measure the size of government.
The bottom line, he said, was that voters should give Obama and a Democratic Congress more time to fix the economy.
“Just give us two more years,” he said. “Give us half the time you gave Republicans to dig the hole to get us out.”
Clinton did not speak about Obama’s vast health care overhaul. He did speak about the financial regulation bill, saying it would prevent future bailouts of large financial firms.
Clinton is stumping across the country in key districts this week while Obama spends several days in Washington, sidelined by an election cycle where much of the energy on the Republican side is driven by discontent with his policies.
Barletta spokesman Shawn Kelly said that “President Clinton asked people to give Kanjorski two more years, but he’s really asking us to give Kanjorski a 28th year.”
“Kanjorski doesn’t deserve his 27th and 28th year in Congress,” Kelly said.
In 2008, Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, was one of the few Republicans to make a hard run at a Democratic incumbent, losing to Kanjorski by a mere four points in an election where most Democrats coasted to victory. Barletta has been ahead in most polls this cycle, but a recent poll showed his lead had been whittled down to two points. Further, the district is roughly two to one Democrat.
Clinton’s visit is the first of two to Pennsylvania during the last week of the election. He will hit several locations around the state Thursday for congressional candidates and also for Senate candidate Joe Sestak, who is locked in a tight race with Republican Pat Toomey.
Kanjorski who has criticized Barletta for the unemployment rate in Hazleton, called him a “failed mayor.” He touted his own ability to obtain funding for projects in the district.
“When we need something I can pick up the phone and reach someone right in the Oval Office,” the Democrat said.
During an interview in his downtown Hazleton headquarters, Barletta said he “felt good” about Clinton’s visit.
“He wouldn’t be coming here if this wasn’t a race they were concerned about losing,” Barletta said.
Barletta, who said he would limit himself to five terms if elected, blamed the high unemployment rate on Congress and the Obama administration.
“What has more effect on unemployment, a mayor of a city or Washington and its policies?” he said. “The district has the highest unemployment rate in the state, his district.”
One man interrupted Clinton at several points early in his speech, yelling for the abolishment of the Federal Reserve. The man was told to leave by others in the crowd, and was seen leaving the building videotaping himself as he talked about being kicked in the shins.