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Standard Speaker - Stilp Outpolls Vinsko in 11th, Will Face Barletta

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The pink pig did it!

Gene Stilp, the Dauphin County activist whose inflatable porker has been a symbol of his long crusade against government waste, defeated Wilkes-Barre attorney Bill Vinsko on Tuesday for the Democratic nomination in the dramatically redrawn 11th Congressional District.

According to unofficial results from 87 percent of the precincts, Stilp had 18,604 votes, or 54.6 percent, to 15,462 for Vinsko, or 45.4 percent.

Stilp will face first-term incumbent Lou Barletta, the former Hazleton mayor who ran unopposed in the Republican primary.

"It looks pretty official," Stilp said in a telephone interview late Tuesday night.

He declared victory on his Facebook page at 10:35 p.m. He thanked his wife, Judy, the voters and quoted the Barry Manilow lyric: "Looks like we made it!"

"Looking forward to fall!" Stilp wrote.

Vinsko called Stilp shortly after 11 p.m. to concede and offer his "sincerest congratulations." Minutes later, he addressed five dozen glum supporters at the American Legion in Nanticoke, thanking them for working on his campaign and describing their election night gathering as a "celebration nonetheless."

Vinsko, 37, urged his supporters to back Stilp in the fall race against Barletta.

"We all have to work together as Democrats," Vinsko said. "To all the people of the 11th District who are watching, from Laceyville to Shippensburg, let me say this: the Democrats can win this, we have to work together. To the Republicans, I say: we have to work together. To the independents, I say: we have to work together."

Stilp, 61, described Vinsko as a "gentleman" and congratulated him on a "well-fought race."

"He was hit with a hard blow during the redistricting, but he gave a good effort and we'll move forward," Stilp said.

Stilp rode an economical, grass-roots campaign to victory, capitalizing on the name recognition and reputation as a reformer that he garnered during his previous runs for office and his battles against the 2005 state legislature pay raise and the state Bonusgate scandal.

The former legislative aide raised $21,844 and spent $13,814, as of an April 12 campaign finance-reporting deadline. His biggest expense: $4,850 to Penn Blue Strategies, the same campaign consulting firm used by 10-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Tim Holden, who lost Tuesday night in the 17th Congressional District.

Vinsko, the cousin of Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton, raised $133,726, including $31,805 from political action committees, and spent $102,463, including $18,250 on a Santa Monica polling firm and $1,024 on Facebook advertising.

"No TV spots, little money, nothing but grass roots and social media. Victory in #pa11 - on to the general," Stilp said on Twitter at 10:47 p.m.

Stilp, a Wilkes-Barre native, also stressed his ties to the region - underscoring the dilemma Vinsko faced when redistricting last December moved him into the 17th District, six months after he began his campaign in the 11th District.

Stilp dominated in the southern end of the district, which stretches from about 40 miles north of the Maryland border to about 40 miles south of the New York line.

Stilp held solid leads late Tuesday night in Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties, solidifying his victory.

In Dauphin, votes for Stilp outnumbered those for Vinsko 7,597 to 1,098 - more than a 7-to-1 margin. In Cumberland, Stilp outpolled Vinsko 2,837 to 754 and in Perry, he led 517 to 107.

Vinsko, the assistant city solicitor in Wilkes-Barre, performed well in Luzerne and other northern counties. He outperformed Stilp 3-to-1 in Luzerne, 9,056 votes to 3,656, and also scored victories in the portions of the district in Wyoming, Columbia and Carbon counties.

"I think the key thing now is that in Luzerne County, there's a lot of division and I want to make sure we bring Democratic unity to the whole region," Stilp said. "I think you have to remember our purpose is to have a strong effort in the fall. So I want to make sure I bring Democratic unity to the whole northeast."

Stilp, who signed a pledge with Vinsko during the primary to keep their campaigns positive, said he would employ the same strategy against Barletta.

"I will promise in the general election to run a clean campaign and see if Mr. Barletta will sign a clean campaign pledge," Stilp said Tuesday night. "I will take that to his office (Wednesday) at 1 p.m."

Barletta issued a statement Tuesday night congratulating Stilp while extolling the mission and accomplishments of his first term in office.

"I look forward to a lively and hard-fought campaign in the general election," Barletta said in the statement.

About an hour before his concession, Vinsko's supporters remained hopeful as they attempted to reconcile the landslide results posted on the state elections website and much closer numbers the campaign said it had culled from individual county elections bureaus within the district.

Vinsko emerged from a private room around 10:15 p.m., interrupting a playlist of "Sweet Caroline," "Play That Funky Music" and "Call Me Maybe" to inform the crowd of about 60 people of the disparity in results.

Vinsko called the race a statistical dead heat. "It looks like it's not over 'til it's over," he said.

An hour later, he conceded to Stilp and urged his supporters to coalesce behind the newly crowded nominee.

"You never know what the future holds," Vinsko said after conceding, the "Grease" classic "Summer Nights" playing in the background. "Tomorrow I'm going to clean off my desk from my law practice and I'm back open for business. Let's have some fun."


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