By Bill O'Boyle
Gene Stilp, fresh off of his Democratic primary win, made good on his first campaign pledge -- he delivered a "Clean Campaign Pledge" to the Hazleton campaign office of his opponent, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, for his signature.
Stilp then got on his pink pig bus and headed to Sunbury.
"We're thanking voters and meeting with people," Stilp said. "We have a long road ahead and a lot of campaigning to do."
Lance Stange, Barletta's campaign manager, accepted the pledge and said
Barletta, 56, will review it when he returns from Washington.
"I signed it," Stilp said. "I asked that it be given to the congressman for him to sign. I think this is a good first step for the campaign."
Stilp, 61, of Middle Paxton Township, defeated attorney Bill Vinsko, 37, of Wilkes-Barre, in Tuesday's primary for the Democratic nomination in the 11th Congressional District. The two Democrats signed a similar pledge during the primary.
Stilp said he will give 25 cents for every campaign sign collected and returned to him.
When the district boundary lines were re-drawn, Vinsko, the assistant city attorney in Wilkes-Barre, found himself residing just outside the district, but he decided to remain in the race.
"I'm disappointed, but not sad," Vinsko said. "We got our message out, and if anybody learned anything from these results, I hope they learned we have to move forward together."
Vinsko said although he can't vote for Stilp because he lives outside the district, he will help as much as he can.
"We do need a congressman who will work for the people, and currently we don't have that," he said.
Vinsko said he will return to his law practice and intends to spend "a colossal amount of time" with his family.
"Campaigns are won and campaigns are lost," he said. "I'm happy for the experience, and you never know what the future holds."
Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said Stilp's victory was "a bit of a surprise."
"It seems like (Vinsko's) pull beyond Luzerne County was minimal," Borick said.
"With the really low turnout, it created a situation where it was possible for a strong grassroots campaign to succeed, thus advantaging Stilp."
Veteran political analyst Ed Mitchell said Vinsko "had a lackluster campaign and got bad advice from his handlers."
He said Stilp has a tough road ahead in trying to unseat Barletta.
"For Stilp to win, he has to raise in excess of a million dollars and use TV," Mitchell said.
Name recognition factor
Tom Baldino, political science professor at Wilkes University, said Stilp's victory can be attributed largely to his greater name recognition as a champion of good government or government reform, a recognition he earned over many years demonstrating against the waste and corruption in Harrisburg.
"Despite spending a fraction of what Mr. Vinsko did, Mr. Stilp relied on the public's awareness of his pink pig as the symbol of his accomplishments," Baldino said. "It clearly worked well for him."
Baldino said Stilp was helped by running a clean campaign, free of the negative ads that marked many of the other campaigns this primary season.
"Mr. Stilp would not have had the money to counterattack or to defend his reputation had Mr. Vinsko gone negative," Baldino said.
David Sosar, King's College political science professor, was not surprised by Stilp's victory.
"Neither one spent a lot of money, but Stilp has a bit more name recognition because of his pink pig bus," Sosar said. "Stilp has been visible around the state with his bus and taking on a lot of state issues with state legislators."