Despite Strong Industry Support, Kanjorski Faces Re-Election Battle
For Rep. Paul Kanjorski, the third time may be the curse.
Kanjorski (D-Pa.), one of the strongest champions of credit unions on Capitol Hill, is trailing his GOP challenger Lou Barletta, who is making his third attempt to oust the veteran lawmaker.
And Kanjorski's low approval ratings, coupled with a challenging environment for Democrats, may seal his fate.
Kanjorski trails Barletta by seven percentage points among likely voters, in the 11th District in northeast Pennsylvania, according to a poll released on Oct. 13 by Franklin & Marshall College.
Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., leads Kanjorski (D-Pa.) 47%-40% among likely voters, with 12% undecided. Among all registered voters, Barletta leads 45%-38%, with 16% undecided.
Among registered voters, 36% rated Kanjorski's job performance as "excellent" or "good," and 36% say he deserves re-election.
The race has drawn considerable national attention, and credit unions are in the thick of the action.
The political action committees of CUNA and NAFCU each gave Kanjorski $10,000, the maximum allowed by law. Yet, he has also received considerable funds from the large banks and other financial firms that have business before the House Financial Services, on which he is the No. 2 member. For example, JPMorgan Chase's political action committee and employees have contributed $24,150. In addition, the National Association of Realtors spent more than $300,000 on direct mail on his behalf.
Several area credit unions are mobilizing their members to campaign on behalf of Kanjorski.
Kanjorski is the lead sponsor of legislation to raise the cap on member business loans and has been the main backer of other bills that credit unions have supported. In 2008, the House passed Kanjorski's legislation to allow federal credit unions to apply to serve underserved areas outside their field of service. Loans in those communities and to religious nonprofit institutions would not count against their MBL cap. The Senate never took up the bill.
The top political strategists at CUNA and NAFCU declined to say what additional plans they have to help Kanjorski in the final weeks of the campaign.
"We will continue to help him as he is a good friend of credit unions," said NAFCU Executive Vice President Dan Berger.
Because this is a year in which the national momentum is with the Republicans, several GOP PACs have included Kanjorski in their line of fire.
National Republican political action committees not affiliated with the party, have spent $1.1 million on television advertisements against Kanjorski, according to the Federal Election Commission, while their Democratic counterparts have spent $200,000 defending him.
But several Democratic heavy hitters, including former President Clinton and Vice President Biden, who grew up in the district, have campaigned for Kanjorski.
Kanjorski's challenges stem from two factors, the votes he cast and the fact that the environment is such that this is a year when Republicans are poised to catch a lot of breaks.
He supported President Obama's health care bill and a measure to combat global warming, both of which are unpopular in his district, according to the polls. Obama's approval rating is 36% in the district, according to the Franklin & Marshall poll.
"This isn't a good year to be an incumbent, and the Democrats are getting a large part of the blame for the economy," said CUNA Senior Vice President Richard Gose. "Also, members who have been in office a long time find that their districts change, and you combine that with a difficult environment and you have a challenging situation."
CUNA did a partisan communication on behalf ?of Kanjorski in 2008. This cycle, it has done two such communications on behalf of other candidates and ?six independent expenditures, none on behalf of ?Kanjorski.
G. Terry Madonna, who conducted the Franklin & Marshall poll, said even though Kanjorski's district leans Democratic, he has sometimes had a difficult time winning re-election.
"He should have lost in 2008 but was helped by the strong support in his district for President Obama," Madonna said. "The Democrats have to get their base out since the Republicans are energized, and the independents are breaking heavily for the Republicans."
In 2008, while President Obama won the district with 57% of the vote, Kanjorski had a close race and wound up defeating Barletta 52%-48%. When Barletta challenged Kanjorski for the first time, in 2002, Kanjorski won by 13 percentage points.
The race is one of 88 that political handicappers consider to be up for grabs and that could determine the partisan composition of the House next year.
Currently, the House has 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans and two vacancies.