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Democrat relies on grass-roots strategy

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Democrat Missa Eaton, 49, is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler in the 3rd Congressional District. Submitted

Democrat Missa Eaton says it's not so bad being the underdog in the 3rd Congressional District race.

“My strategy has been a grassroots strategy since the beginning,” said the former psychology professor from Sharon. She canvassed voters door-to-door in Kittanning on Wednesday. “I have been reaching out to the everyday voter and letting them know that I am like them.”

Eaton is challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Mike Kelly, owner of Mike Kelly Automotive, in the Nov. 6 election. Eaton said she believes she can overcome typical obstacles like name recognition and a smaller campaign budget.

“I'm very optimistic,” she said. “Democrats still have a 12,000-voter advantage in the district and we're getting a very positive response from independents.”

Kelly said he's used strategies similar to marketing a business to expand his office's presence in the district, when staffing district offices and by opening satellite offices in Kittanning and Meadville.

“I do think the same basic tenets apply, to make sure you're always there for people,” Kelly said.

The 3rd District runs from near Kittanning to Butler and Slippery Rock, then veers west to hug the Pennsylvania-Ohio line, stretching north to Erie.

Based on population measurements taken during the 2010 Census, the district was expanded to include all, instead of parts of, Armstrong, Butler and Mercer counties and parts of Clarion and Lawrence counties. It still includes part of Crawford County, but portions of Venango and Warren counties were moved to other districts.

The district also formerly included all of Erie County, but redistricting put the eastern, rural portion of the county into the 5th Congressional district.

Eaton said she feels as though she has an edge in the Alle-Kiski Valley communities in southern Butler and Armstrong counties, which are new to the 3rd District.

“Mr. Kelly is not the incumbent in those parts of the district,” she said. “That's a good thing, it gives me the opportunity to introduce who I am.”

Eaton said she hasn't been running any paid television or radio campaign ads. She said she and other candidates each recorded a TV spot for the City of Erie's community access television station.

She is in the midst of a seven-county tour, holding townhall meetings and door-knocking.

“I came into this race in January with a name recognition issue,” Eaton said. “I've worked exceedingly hard for the last nine months to get my message out. Our greatest strength now is in the field.”

In the past, 3rd District candidates had advertised extensively in Erie but Kelly said it's important to make sure “you're getting a good return on your investment.”

He said their strategy has been to run television and radio ads closer to election day.

“With a presidential campaign, you have to ante up a lot of money to get that time,” Kelly said. “We didn't think it was wise to be out there too early.”

Kelly said his campaign has stressed that the country must capitalize on its natural resources — oil, gas and coal — to get the economy running. He said leadership isn't taking advantage of that.

He favors simplifying the federal tax code, lowering taxes and cutting debt. Over-aggressive regulations stifle business and the economy, he said. He opposes President Obama's health care law and believes free enterprise is the best model for medicine.

“God has graced us with natural resources,” he said. “We can take advantage of that. We can't (improve the economy) by borrowing more money and growing more debt.”

Eaton said government can't solve all problems for Americans, but it can help. She wants to attract industry to former industrial towns through better marketing.

She said she would cultivate overseas interests to invest in the 3rd District by purchasing products such as locomotives from two General Electric plants in her area. She wants to set up business incubator programs to help startups gain footing so they can stand alone.

“I want to work hard for small business owners and managers of large corporations,” Eaton said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com. Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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