A Combative Campaign In Pennsylvania’s Coal Region

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KEYSTONE CROSSROADS — Candidates in Pennsylvania’s Ninth Congressional District held their final debate at WVIA in Pittston Tuesday night, concluding a race marked recently by personal attacks.

Credit: WVIA

Policy-wise, Democrat Denny Wolf and Republican Dan Meuser don’t present quite as stark a contrast as candidates in many of the state’s other congressional districts.

That was evident on Tuesday, as was the campaign’s combative tone.

Wolff struck first, using part of his opening statement.

“My opponent … lives in the eighth district, in a million dollar house and lacks the temperament to serve as a member of Congress. After our first debate, I extended my hand to him and he told me to go to hell,” Wolff said.

Meuser does live a couple miles beyond the limits of the struggling coal region district, and previously waged a failed congressional bid from out of district when a different congressional map was in place. But he’s well within his right to run and represent it.

Wolff, who operates his family’s Columbia County dairy farm, also dedicated some his closing remarks to bash Meuser, who’s described his own upbringing as middle/lower-middle class, for being wealthy – suggesting Meuser’s Pride Mobility Corp. profited off Medicaid fraud as well as child labor and paltry worker wages in international business dealings with China and other countries.

“It takes a lot of money to buy five houses, to have a fleet of cars, to have two airplanes, to have a boat,” Wolff said. “That’s a pretty fast lifestyle.”

Wolff’s remarks were fitting bookends after a debate peppered with digs from both candidates, although Meuser was more often on the defensive.

“Denny, you say the things you say and you know that they’re false but you just say them anyway because you have no ideas and no plans to move our country forward or the 9th Congressional. I’m not going to get down in the gutter with you proving those accusations false,” Meuser said.

The exchanges echoed those in recent debates, which also have shown the candidates in the 9thdistrict (both top fundraisers and establishment picks in their respective primaries) to be closer on policy than those in other races.

Both are NRA members well-regarded by the organization.

Both are former state cabinet secretaries under different gubernatorial administrations – appointed positions, not elected, so there’s no record in public office to critique as far as voting and broken promises.

And both are courting voters in a district that, if it had existed, would’ve picked Trump handily in 2016 and is now pretty much considered a given for the GOP.

At one point, Wolff crowned himself the “only conservative” on stage.

“You’re the only conservative up here?” Meuser replied. “In the last three presidential elections, I voted for John McCain, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. Who did you vote for?”

“The opposites,” Wolff said.

Meuser laughed.

“That didn’t sound very conservative to me,” Meuser said, drawing chuckles from the audience and an interjection from the moderator.

It’s worth noting here that our analysis of past ballot counts in the precincts that now make up the ninth suggests there are thousands, even tens of thousands, of split-ticket votes cast each time, and it tended to happen more often for midterms than presidential elections.

Registered Republicans do outnumber Democrats by 50,000 voters, according to WITF’s analysis of Department of State voter registration data.

But that’s less than 61,000 registered as unaffiliated or with a third party.

So although the race isn’t getting the influx of PAC cash flooding some others seen as more competitive, the ninth district candidates are clearly in it to win.

The ninth district includes all of Lebanon, Schuylkill, Columbia and Carbon counties, plus parts of Berks, Montour, Luzerne and Northumberland counties.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

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