The program is about ‚??staying on offense by building strong and winning campaigns against Democrats and their agenda that bankrupts our nation,‚?Ě announced Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the NRCC. ‚??Lou Barletta has demonstrated the leadership and ability to wage an aggressive campaign based on rigorous goals and proven strategies for victory.‚?Ě
But Democrats began pounding their own drum and to a very different beat, proclaiming that Barletta‚??s inclusion in the Patriot Program was actually an admission by Republicans of just how vulnerable the freshman lawmaker is when he runs for reelection next year.
Pennsylvania Democrats noted that three of the 10 Republicans on the list are from Pennsylvania: Barletta and reps. Pat Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick.
‚??It‚??s not a surprise that Washington Republicans are worried about these members,‚?Ě charged Mark Nicastre, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, upon hearing the news about the Patriot Program‚??s initial list. ‚??They all voted for the unpopular GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it.‚?Ě
There is no debate about one thing, however: Barletta‚??s bid for a second term will be the focus of state and national attention by both parties and outside liberal and conservative groups.
When Barletta spent about $18,000 on taxpayer-funded ‚??franked‚?Ě mailings from his congressional office to constituents during the first quarter he was in office this year, Democrats howled that he was being a hypocrite because Barletta criticized longtime Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski for his franking practices during Barletta‚??s successful 2010 run against Kanjorski.
Did Barletta try to keep video cameras ‚?? at least those not possessed by credentialed media ‚?? out of a recent constituent meeting?
Barletta said he was just trying to keep a liberal group from disrupting a small, private meeting ‚?? not a publicly advertised town hall or large scale forum ‚?? about flooding issues. Democrats pointed to that as evidence that he is running scared.
Also featured in the controversy over alleged video camera bans was another Northeastern Pennsylvania freshman Republican, Rep. Tom Marino of Lycoming Township.
But there is much more of a spotlight on Barletta, and for good political reason.
The 11th District that Barletta won is considered a Democratic stronghold.
Barletta defeated Kanjorski in a terrible year for Democrats, amid criticism of the new health care reform law, grumblings that Kanjorski and his longstanding record of obtaining big bucks federal earmarks for pet district projects was out of line with the need for fiscal discipline and that Kanjorski, first elected in 1984, had just been in office too long.
Marino, by contrast, won last year in a district, the 10th, that had been favorable to Republicans until Christopher Carney seized the seat in 2006 during a good year for Democrats and after then-Rep. Don Sherwood became embroiled in a personal scandal.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report‚??s early ratings of House races lists Barletta‚??s as one of nine GOP-held districts currently considered a toss-up for 2012. Marino is not even listed as being in a competitive race.
Nathan Gonzales, the political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, notes it is very early in the election cycle, and notes Republicans are in charge of drawing new district lines and will try to safeguard vulnerable incumbents. The Cook Political Report, also, notes that redistricting may have a big impact on 2012 races.
Still, ‚??Barletta looks like a more attractive target for Democrats because he currently represents a more Democratic district,‚?Ě Gonzales said.
Democrat William Vinsko, a lawyer with his own practice who also is a Wilkes-Barre assistant city attorney, is exploring making a run against Barletta.
‚??I am committed to working for the people of Northeast Pennsylvania,‚?Ě Vinsko said last week. ‚??How we go about doing that is what we are going to announce soon.‚?Ě
Democrats, of course, have their own version of the Patriot Program, which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee calls Frontline Democrats. Included on that list is another Pennsylvania lawmaker, Rep. Mark Critz, D-12th.
‚??At the beginning of each election cycle, both parties identify their most vulnerable members either by the competitiveness of their district or the close margin of their victory,‚?Ě Gonzales said. ‚??These committee lists are used to point potential donors and outside groups to seats where their help is needed most.‚?Ě
Until new congressional lines are drawn, ‚??it‚??s too early to tell how vulnerable Barletta or Marino will end up being,‚?Ě Gonzales added. But, ‚??both parties think of certain districts as their own, so when they lose them, those immediately start as targets for the next cycle.‚?Ě
And it would seem that Barletta is a top-echelon target already for Democrats.
Barletta said in an interview last week that, ‚??I am one of the top targeted races in the country by the Democrats, if not the number one targeted race in the country. They have not even given me a chance to get my pictures hung on the wall before they started their attacks.‚?Ě
Nicastre, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman, asserts that both Barletta and Marino are vulnerable to challenges in their first bids for reelection, but acknowledges that Democrats look at Barletta and his more Democratic district as especially precarious.
The NRCC‚??s initial list of Patriot Program members was released on the heels of criticism of the House GOP budget plan that proposes to partially privatize Medicare and a special U.S. House election in New York last month that saw a Democrat win in a traditionally Republican district.
‚??The Patriot Program and Barletta‚??s inclusion on the list really highlights his vulnerability,‚?Ě Nicastre said. ‚??The NRCC saw what happened politically with that (budget) vote and after the New York special election that sent them into something of a panic.‚?Ě
Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the NRCC in Washington, said the Patriot Program is not about being defensive, it‚??s about going on the political offensive. In 2010, 40 of 42 Patriot Program participants won their races, he said.
‚??The focus is to keep Republican members on the offensive talking about the things they have done in Washington to lower taxes and create jobs,‚?Ě he said.
Barletta said he is hardly panicking. Video cameras are welcome in public forums, he just wanted to avoid disruption of that particular meeting by outside groups while still allowing in credential media, Barletta said in the interview last week. And while he criticized Kanjorski for overusing taxpayer-funded mailings too close to election time, some mailings used to inform constituents about official issues are appropriate, Barletta said.
‚??I take that as a compliment that they (Democrats) feel they needed to start attacking me as soon as I got into office because it shows me we ran a strong campaign,‚?Ě he said.
Barletta says he is focusing on his official work, not on campaigning, noting that during a House recess last week he met with experts in education and work force training and with small business to discuss federal issues. He also helped sponsor a meeting with FBI gang experts, drawing on his experience as a former Hazleton mayor to talk about combating gang crime in the area.
‚??I won‚??t need to worry about the political stuff,‚?Ě Barletta said. ‚??My campaign is the average folks who like how hard I work for them.‚?Ě