POTTSTOWN — Republican candidate Lou Barletta told supporters of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey Jr. not to pay attention to the polls.
Before arriving at the Potts & Penn Diner on High Street for a campaign stop Thursday morning, the newest Franklin and Marshall College poll put Barletta's support at 35 percent of registered voters to 50 percent for Casey, with 14 percent undecided.
"Two years ago, Terry Madonna and the Franklin and Marshall poll had Donald Trump down by 12 points in Pennsylvania," said Barletta, an early and ardent supporter of the president. "Don't fall for it again. If there's one thing we know, it's that the polls can't get Pennsylvania right."
"When we started, they said this was not going to be a race," said Barletta. "Now we've got about a week to go and this race couldn't be any tighter."
He said Pennsylvania has generations of old-school Democrats. "In coal country, you had to be a Democrat to get a job. My father was a Democrat. They were JFK Democrats. If those people were alive today, they wouldn't be Democrats. JFK wouldn't be a Democrat," Barletta said.
Democrats in Pennsylvania may not change their registration, but will vote Republican on election day, he said. "That's how Donald Trump became president."
Barletta, a former Mayor of Hazelton who gained national notoriety for his efforts to adopt immigration laws there, which spurred his run for the House of Representatives where he represents the 11th District, said the fact that Casey is running negative advertisements about him shows "they're in panic mode now."
The fact that former vice president Joe Biden will appear at a campaign event for Casey in Wilkes Barre is evidence of desperation, Barletta said. "With all the close Senate races across the country, they would not be calling in Joe Biden if this race wasn't razor thin," he said.
"When you're leading, you do not run negative ads, you tell people how great you are and you cruise to victory, but he's spending $15 million on more advertising because he can't close the deal," said Barletta.
One Casey ad in particular has angered Barletta. It features a mother of twin daughters with cancer who says Barletta's votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have denied her children the coverage they needed for treatment.
Barletta said Thursday the ad went up shortly after he told Casey one of his twin grandsons was recently diagnosed with cancer. And although Casey has apologized for the ad and said he was not thinking of Barletta's grandson when he approved it, Barletta said when he called Casey to complain, Casey told him "your votes have consequences."
Barletta voted for the House GOP's Obamacare replacement, the American Healthcare Act, which continued coverage for pre-existing conditions, but dropped the Affordable Care Act's rules capping how much extra people can be charged for covering pre-existing conditions.
"In fact, the Republican alternative would have allowed people with pre-existing conditions to be charged 'thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars more per year, some studies have found,' PolitiFact concluded," according to an Oct. 19 report in PennLive.
Barletta said Trump urged him to run and when he realized that the realized the vote in the Senate "to repeal and replace Obamacare failed by one vote," he realized how important it is that he run.
He earned applause when he said the nomination for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh "was a low-point in American politics. They smeared a good man."
He warned his supporters that if Republicans don't turn out to vote "you'll have to think about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer taking over next Tuesday," referencing the Democratic minority leaders in both the House and Senate.
Afterward, while Barletta moved through the diner shaking hands, Area Republican Leader France Krazalkovich said he was pleased to see western Montgomery County in the spotlight.
"From the Pottsgroves north, we're the only remaining red part of the county anymore," said Krazalkovich, who is also vice chairman of the Upper Pottsgrove Township Commissioners.
Liz Preate Havey, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, said she is not worried by the fact that Democrats now have a registration advantage in Montgomery County. Barletta has more support among moderate Democrats than the polls show, she said.
Havey said Democrats have been turned off by the "over-the-top" reaction Democratic leaders have had to President Trump, although she conceded she does not agree with all the president's "rhetoric."
For Manny Vlastos, owner of the Potts & Penn Diner, he's just happy his business is seen as a community gathering place.
"I've had both candidates here," he said of the Senate race. "I just hope people make what they think is the right choice for the country in the voting booth."