Kanjorski Edges Out Primary Challengers
The May 18 primary elections provided more good than bad news for credit union-backed candidates.
One of the top credit union allies in Congress survived his primary challenge but with less than 50% of the vote, a long-time senator and credit union ally was toppled and one of the top conservative prospects won with credit union support.
Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) won 49% of the vote against two challengers-Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien and first-time candidate Brian Kelly, who was one of the few Democrats supported by the tea party movement. Kanjorski will face Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who he beat by 9,000 votes in 2008, for the third time.
Kanjorski, who is a leading sponsor of legislation that would raise the cap on member business lending and has been the main backer of several other pro-credit union bills, has received $10,000 from CUNA's political action committee during the current campaign cycle and $5,000 from NAFCU's PAC. He is also the No. 2 Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.
Although Kanjorski's Northeastern Pennsylvania district is strongly Democratic-President Obama won it by nine percentage points in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry won it by 20 percentage points in 2004-Kanjorski has been criticized from both the right and left for supporting legislation that rescued large financial institutions.
"I don't think any incumbent can feel confident in a year like this," said CUNA Senior Vice President for Political Affairs Richard Gose. "It's also not at all unusual for challengers to defeat an incumbent on their third try."
CUNA's PAC also gave $5,000 to Mark Critz, who won a special election in the Southwest Pennsylvania district that was represented for 36 years by Rep. John Murtha (D) before his death in February. Critz, a Democrat and former Murtha aide, defeated businessman Tim Burns 53% to 44%. The two will face each other in a rematch in the November election.
Healthcare First Credit Union in Johnstown hosted a fundraiser for Critz, attended by employees and volunteers of other credit unions in the area.
In the most high-profile Pennsylvania race, despite the backing of the state's party leadership and the credit union's top PACs, Sen. Arlen Specter (D) was defeated in the primary by Rep. Joe Sestak (D) 54% to 46%.
CUNA's PAC gave Specter $3,000 and NAFCU's PAC gave him $2,500. Specter was facing voters for the first time since changing parties last year.
The general election will force credit unions to choose between friends, and the political strategists of both CUNA and NAFCU said they hadn't decided who to support.
Sestak, a two-term lawmaker from suburban Philadelphia, received $7,000 from CUNA's PAC when he ran for reelection in 2008 and $1,000 from NAFCU's PAC. Neither group gave him money in his first race, when he challenged 20-year incumbent Curt Weldon (R).
Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, was a favorite of credit unions while he was in the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005. CUNA's PAC gave him $9,500 during his career and NAFCU's PAC gave him $1,000.
Gose and NAFCU Executive Vice President B. Berger both said they would speak to members in Pennsylvania and review the positions of Sestak and Toomey before deciding who to back.
In the GOP primary in Kentucky, CUNA's PAC gave $5,000 to ophthalmologist Rand Paul, a favorite of the tea party and the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Rand Paul defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was backed by much of the state's political establishment.
Gose said CUNA backed Paul, who has never held elective office before, because he spoke favorably about credit union issues during discussions with league officials.
Paul will face Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway in the fall for the seat currently held by Sen. Jim Bunning.
In Arkansas, CUNA and NAFCU's PACs both gave money to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), who received a plurality of votes in the primary but will have to face Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a June 8 runoff. The winner will face Rep. John Boozman (R) in the general election. Lincoln received $3,500 from CUNA's PAC and $1,000 from NAFCU's PAC.