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Barletta: I can win and Mastriano can’t

Lou Barletta speaks at an event at the Genetti Hotel in Williamsport on Saturday.MARK MARONEY/Sun-Gazette

Lou Barletta, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in Tuesday’s Primary Election, came out throwing punches Saturday in Williamsport hours after the endorsement of state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Fayettesville, by former President Donald J. Trump.

“I’m the only candidate who can win in November,” Barletta, 66, who served four terms in the U.S. House said, standing alongside former U.S. Congressman Tom Marino, U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, and Vincent Matteo, chairman of the Lycoming County Republican Party in the Jefferson Room of the Genetti Hotel.

“You can’t put somebody in the ring who can’t beat him,” Barletta said of presumptive Democratic nominee and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running in the party unopposed.

“Pennsylvanians can’t let Josh Shapiro win,” Barletta said, adding he wants GOP voters to believe a Barletta nomination would result in victory in November.

Standing next to his campaign slogan “The Great Pennsylvania Comeback,” and the image of the Liberty Bell, Barletta addressed how hours before, Mastriano, 58, who many pollsters have leading the GOP pack of potential nominees, had received a nationally broadcast endorsement from the former president, who Barletta, Keller and Marino had joined on stage during Trump campaign rallies. They were admittedly upset because of Barletta’s support of Trump during both the former president’s campaigns.

Barletta said it had not knocked him off his message.

“That doesn’t change the facts,” Barletta said.

Marino, a former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District and Lycoming County district attorney who had been considered for the position as the nation’s drug czar in the prior administration, was disappointed in the former president’s decision.

“Apparently, loyalty does not go as far as he says loyalty does,” Marino said.

“He watches the polls and whoever has the lead coming into the tail end – that is who is going to get the endorsement,” Marino said of Trump.

“Where in the hell is the loyalty?” Marino asked, adding that Barletta, at the very least, deserved a telephone call from Trump.

Marino vowed that he was, at this time, not supporting anyone who has Trump’s endorsement.

“I would trust my family with Lou,” Marino said.

Barletta avoided attacking Mastriano directly by name, choosing to criticize Gov. Tom Wolf, drawing the comparison that Shapiro and he were part and parcel.

The governor “crushed the livelihoods of so many people (during early in COVID)” by choosing what businesses had to shut their doors, said Barletta, a former business owner and former mayor of Hazleton.

“And I thought, what gives this governor this kind of power?” Barletta asked.

He zeroed in on immigration policy.

“We watched ghost flights come in from the border, literally bringing people in that … we have no idea who they are, we have no idea where they are going, we have no idea which schools they are in and how Governor Wolf and Josh Shapiro turned their backs.”

As mayor of Hazleton, Barletta tried to combat illegal immigration through strict municipal ordinances.

Though copied by cities across the nation the Hazleton ordinances were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.

While in Congress, Barletta introduced a bill to fund construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the Morning Call of Allentown. Barletta lost a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, in 2018 and remained engaged in politics and was involved in Trump’s unsuccessful reelection campaign in Pennsylvania.

Barletta also blasted Wolf for the state’s energy direction, putting the state into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which, he said, “stole jobs from state residents and that Shapiro agreed to.”

Keller referenced Barletta’s strength on stopping illegal immigration.

“He took on tough issues before anybody was willing to and he got threats,” Keller said.

“He will fight hard for the people of Pennsylvania when he’s the next governor,” Keller said.

“We need your help on Tuesday to send the right person at the right time to be our next governor,” Keller said.

Barletta touched on his plan for educational reform, decrying what he claimed were false narratives and hurdles to parental choice and he attacked critical race theory taught to children.

“We are seeing our children taught to hate each other . . . hate our country,” he said.

“As Tom Wolf is leaving I realize that Josh Shapiro would be worse, ” he said.

“Shapiro would be Wolf on steroids,” Matteo said, urging party unity and warning about a lack of the party faithful not getting behind former Gov. Tom Corbett that led to eight years of Wolf being in the governor’s mansion.

Keller heaped praise on Barletta’s commitment to seek a new vision for all Pennsylvania and for demonstrating toughness in the campaign.

“I’ve known Lou since he was mayor of Hazleton,” Keller said. “There’s nobody who fights any harder than Lou Barletta. … He fights for our values.”

“Lou is a small businessman,” Keller continued. “He started his own business and he understands what it takes to get up and go to work everyday and make a payroll and understands the hard work that goes on all across our Commonwealth.”

Barletta in the mid-1980s started up a business in Hazleton. He and his wife’s investment of less than $30, a kit to use paint to line spaces in parking lots, expanded to become known as Interstate Road Marking, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Confident heading into Tuesday

“This all comes to an end Tuesday and we can fix this. We can fix Pennsylvania,” he said. “But we can’t do it if we nominate someone who cannot beat Josh Shapiro.”

Matteo said the local party did not endorse a candidate in the race. No one could get over 50 percent of that vote, which Matteo said was “understandable because there were so many people running, so many good people.”

As we come down to the final days people are realizing that we need to coalesce with one candidate who can actually win in November,” Barletta said, taking aim at Mastriano but not by name.

“It does us no good to win a primary and then lose in November,” he said. “I am our only and best chance to defeat Josh Shapiro.”

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