During his six terms in office, Congressman Phil English has seen some years in which voter dissatisfaction was rampant. But even he acknowledges this year is different than most, which is making life difficult for incumbents across the state and country.

“The discontent is of a different order this year,” said English, 50, of Erie, R-3rd District.

He added the reputation he’s “tried to cultivate as an independent voice in Washington has been a particularly hard sell when people feel disaffected by our party.”

“What we’re trying to do is encourage voters not to throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said.

Democratic challenger Dr. Steven Porter argues the baby, in this case English, is as much a problem as the bath water, or the Republican-controlled Congress.

Porter said Frank Lloyd Wright was once asked how he would solve the problems of New York City.

“He answered in one word, ‘Evacuation,’ ” Porter said. “And that’s my thoughts about Congress. If somebody asked me how to solve the problems of Congress, I’d say start all over again.”

Porter, 63, of Wattsburg, Erie County, is making his second consecutive run at English — he lost by about a 20-percent margin in 2004 — and has been joined by Constitution Party candidate Tim Hagberg, 46, of Warren.

Porter, however, believes there’s a significance difference between this election and the 2004 election.

“The public now understands what a poor job the Bush administration has done and what Congress has done and unfortunately they understand there’s a great deal more pain now,” Porter said.

That pain, he added, is reflected in the fact many more American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, more jobs have been outsourced, energy prices have skyrocketed and there are more people with no health insurance.

“You pick the issue, the country’s gone downhill,” he said. “I think the public is much more angry than it was two years ago and is truly ready for a change.”

Hagberg agreed.

“We’re not lacking experience or education in Washington,” he said. “We’re lacking common sense.”

Anyway, he added, how much education does someone need to vote on legislation they didn’t even read?

“The problem is the system, which is engineered so they can’t read it,” he said.

Porter believes there is little trust between the government and citizens, which he described as a tragedy for the country.

“And the reason there’s so little trust is because government has not been run in the interests of the average person, but rather in the interests of the lobbyists who have paid for members of Congress,” he said.

English is well aware of the what he described as “legitimate discontent” with Iraq and that more isn’t being done by Congress on issues such as health care and fair trade. This has made even more important, he said, to show how he differs from the party and administration.

“But just reminding people of how I’ve differed with other incumbents and people of my own party has been a challenge,” he said.

Few people give Hagberg a chance to upend either candidate, but he advised voters to remain true to themselves on Election Day.

“Some people say I’m a wasted vote,” he said. “But the only wasted vote is one that doesn’t reflect your beliefs.

Although there has been some controversy associated with scheduling of debates this year, it’s been minimal compared to 2004. After bobbing and weaving for months, the candidates finally agreed to get together last Thursday and Friday for a pair of debates in radio studios in Erie and Hermitage.

Although his message is getting out to a live radio audience, Porter maintained it’s not the kind of forum the public deserves.

“The public should be able to see the candidates in action,” he said. “When you deprive the public of that, it’s an insult to the voters and it’s demeaning to the electoral process.”

English countered the only people who went to the debates at college campuses two years ago were essentially cheerleaders for their candidates, so he thought people who weren’t cheerleaders who wouldn’t go to a debate were short-changed.

“The bottom line is we thought either a television debate or a radio debate would have been the ideal format,” he said.

English also maintained that having two debates on the radio was the best way to reach out to a maximum number of voters. WJET in Erie, which hosted Wednesday’s, estimated its listenership during afternoon drive-time at about 25,000. WPIC, which brought its new 1,300-watt transmitter and tower on line Friday. That debate, which was simulcast on its sister station WLLF, probably reached about 4,500.

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