Kelly faces Eaton, Porter in 3rd District
Napoleon would have liked U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly.
The French emperor famously said he wanted his generals to be lucky, and Mr. Kelly has had two pieces of good luck in his campaign to hold onto the congressional seat he won in 2010.
First, when the state Legislature redrew boundary lines for House seats to reflect population shifts, all of Butler County, his home county, was added to the state's 3rd Congressional District. Registered Republicans like Mr. Kelly are the majority in Butler County.
Second, while his Democratic opponent, Missa Eaton of Sharon, had no competition in her primary run, an independent third candidate, Steven Porter, will be on the ballot in the general election.
"I agree that he is more likely to harm me than Mr. Kelly," Ms. Eaton said of Mr. Porter. "If people vote for him, they might as well vote for Mike Kelly."
Mr. Kelly, 64, is a former member of Butler City Council who defeated one-term U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper two years ago to take over the seat that covers northwestern Pennsylvania. His win helped the GOP take control of the House of Representatives.
Mr. Kelly, who had a successful career in business, expanding the auto dealership begun by his father, has not been a shy freshman. Most notably, he has battled against earmarks, which are the special appropriations Congress makes for legislators' pet projects back in their home districts.
He also drew national media attention, some of it critical, for his comparison of contraception provisions in the Affordable Care Act to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In an interview last week, he stood by his remark. By requiring religiously affiliated institutions to provide birth control products, the Obama administration was attacking the First Amendment, Mr. Kelly said.
"This is about religious freedom, and the Department of Health and Human Services is mandating people to do things they don't believe are right," he said.
Mr. Kelly said he took pride in his efforts in the House to encourage high-tech manufacturing and domestic energy production and to trim spending, the deficit and earmarks.
"We've got to concentrate on getting people back to work," he said. "The security of our national safety net depends on a robust economy."
Two keys to achieving that result would be a flatter, fairer tax code and education that prepares people for available jobs, he said.
The incumbent holds a strong lead in fundraising, an advantage that Ms. Eaton, a longtime teacher at Penn State's Shenango campus, said she hopes to overcome with vigorous field campaigning. After her primary win, Ms. Eaton, 49, gave up her post as assistant professor of psychology at Penn State to campaign full time.
Her previous jobs as a receptionist for the property development firm, an administrative associate at the University of Texas and a real estate and cosmetics saleswoman have given her insight into the struggles of middle- and working-class people, she said.
"There is nothing wrong with being wealthy ... but you have to identify with the people you are representing," she said. "I have been where the people in the 3rd District have been."
Congress should work to help places like Western Pennsylvania develop more high-technology manufacturing, to close tax loopholes for sending jobs overseas, to invest in education and to protect senior citizens, she said.
Mr. Kelly is a Tea Party favorite whose positions are too far to the right, she said.
"I've held a lot of different jobs, and I can see multiple perspectives and work with multiple kinds of people," she said.
In addition to seeking to get Democrats out to vote, her campaign has been focused on the district's 37,000 nonaffiliated voters.
"People on the right thought it was a good idea to send someone to Washington who doesn't want government," she said. "Most voters want government to work and they want to see their tax dollars come back to the district."
Mr. Kelly's predecessors, Ms. Dahlkemper and veteran Republican Rep. Phil English, "were both very good about getting back some of the money we send to Washington."
Mr. Porter, 69, is making his third run for Congress, having campaigned as a Democrat against Mr. English in 2004 and 2006.
A retired teacher and school administrator, he decided to run as an independent after concluding that the political system had turned into a "two-party tyranny."
"The Democratic Party is no longer interested in or capable of serving the people," he said. "Both parties are owned by the special interests."
If he wins, he admitted he would be unlikely to be able to pass much legislation. "I would be one voice out of 435, but you are going to hear this voice, speaking the truth."
He pointed to his success in getting more than 2,500 names for his nominating petitions.
Both Ms. Eaton and Mr. Porter said they were disappointed in Mr. Kelly's refusal to debate more than once. Mr. Kelly defended his decision. "I have a very busy schedule, and I'd rather spend my time with my constituents," he said.
The three candidates' single face-to-face meeting will be in a television studio on Oct. 24. "With a TV debate people don't have to worry about bad weather or traffic to get there," Mr. Kelly said.
Their debate will air at 8 p.m. Oct. 25 on WQLN-TV, Erie, at 10 p.m. that same night on WNEO-TV, Kent, Ohio, and at 1 p.m. Oct. 27 on WJET-TV, Erie.
Tom New, WQLN's director of creative services, said arrangements are being made for the debate to be carried on Armstrong and Time-Warner cable systems.
First Published October 14, 2012 12:00 am