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Roll Call Poll Shows Kanjorski in Peril

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) could be the most vulnerable House Democrat in the country, according to exclusive Roll Call poll results released Monday.

Kanjorski trailed his opponent, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R), 51 percent to 45 percent, in a SurveyUSA poll taken Oct. 30-Nov. 2 for Roll Call. The automated survey interviewed 622 likely voters and had a margin of error of 4 points.

While Democrats are expected to make huge gains in House races across the country, Kanjorski’s northeastern Pennsylvania district remains an exception to the national trend. The poll showed Kanjorski with less support than his ticket topper, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), who held a 53 percent to 43 percent lead over GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Kanjorski’s Scranton-area district has traditionally voted for Democrats, re-electing him 12 times and giving 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) with 53 percent. But as a local mayor who earned national recognition for implementing anti-illegal immigration policies in his small town, Barletta is well-known and well-liked throughout the district.

One possible reason for Kanjorski’s peril is that voters do not appear to have a high opinion of the longtime Congressman: Kanjorski had a 35 percent approval rating and a 39 percent disapproval rating among survey respondents. Kanjorski has been the subject of unwanted scrutiny in recent years, with media reports suggesting that authorities are looking into whether he has steered earmarks to companies connected to his family.

Barletta, meanwhile, had a 47 percent approval rating and a 32 percent disapproval rating among those who were polled.

Barletta not only has 86 percent support from Republicans, but also 28 percent support from Democrats and 49 percent support from independents in the poll. Kanjorski had 68 percent support from Democrats, 42 percent from independents and 12 percent support from Republicans in the poll.

Obama’s double-digit lead in the district is also significant because Democrats expressed apprehension earlier this year about their nominee’s prospects in the blue-collar district. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), whom Kanjorski backed in the April 22 Democratic primary, defeated Obama by a large margin in the district.

Obama’s 10 percent lead in this poll shows the Democratic nominee made inroads into the district — an effort that could have been buoyed by his selection of Scranton native Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) as his running mate.

But while the Biden choice may have boosted Obama in the 11th district, it does not appear to have done the same for Kanjorski. In the poll, 75 percent of Obama backers said they would vote for Kanjorski, and 20 percent said they planned to vote for Barletta. McCain supporters backed Barletta with 91 percent and Kanjorski with 7 percent.

The economy was equally important to both Kanjorski and Barletta supporters, with 56 percent of survey respondents indicating that it is the top issue they want Congress to tackle.

As secondary issues, health care and the Iraq War were more important to Kanjorski backers, while Barletta supporters said terrorism and immigration were the most important issues to them after the economy.