CU Allies Among Targeted
In a year when many incumbent officeholders are about as popular as Yankee fans in Fenway Park, several key supporters of credit unions will be fighting for their political lives this year.
Those on the endangered list range from veteran lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Rep. Paul Kanjorski and Sen. Arlen Specter (both D-Pa.) to freshman Reps. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) and Walt Minnick (D-Idaho).
All those lawmakers have received money from either CUNA's or NAFCU's political action committees or both.
Democratic incumbents are considered to be in trouble because of the sluggish economy, mediocre approval ratings for President Obama and the party's successes in the last two election cycles. As a result, Democrats hold many seats that are in Republican-leaning districts. In addition, some long-serving members may be the victims of incumbent fatigue.
"It's obvious that the wind is at the Republican Party's back. It will be more than a light breeze, but we aren't sure if will be a gale force," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.
There are 253 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House, with five vacancies. The Senate has 57 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and 41 Republicans. All House seats are up this year as are 36 Senate seats.
Kanjorski, one of the strongest allies of credit unions on Capitol Hill and the sponsor of legislation to raise the cap on member business lending, faces a primary challenge from the left and a general election challenge from the right.
Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien is running in the May 18 Democratic primary and is criticizing Kanjorski for supporting legislation to rescue some large failing financial institutions. According to the most recent fundraising totals, Kanjorski has a 9-1 fundraising advantage over O'Brien.
If Kanjorski wins the primary, he will face Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who has run twice against Kanjorski before and lost both times, including by four percentage points in 2008.
"A primary challenge means you have to spend money you might need for the fall, and the third time could be the one when Kanjorski loses," said CUNA Senior Vice President for Political Affairs Richard Gose. "That's a race we will watch closely and do all we can to help our friend."
Specter, who will be facing voters for the first time since changing parties last year, also faces challenges from the left and right.
In the primary, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) is criticizing Specter for being insufficiently liberal. The likely GOP nominee, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), is contending that Specter is too much of a supporter of big government spending programs.
"That's a race we are watching closely. He [Specter] helped us on the bankruptcy bill a few years ago, but he may introduce a bill regulating interchange and that's not ideal," said NAFCU Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Dan Berger.
The top strategists of both trade associations said they will make extensive financial and in-kind contributions during this campaign. According to their latest Federal Election Commission fillings, CUNA's Credit Union Legislative Action Council had $953,506 in its coffers at the end of February. NAFCU PAC had $265,594 at the end of February.
Reid, who has supported credit union issues and as the top Democrat has much influence on the overall agenda, is behind all potential GOP challengers.
NAFCU Chairman Brad Beal recently hosted a fundraising reception at his credit union, Nevada Federal Credit Union.
"Reid has a history of extremely close races that he wins, and this year will follow that pattern," Beal said.