CU Champion Kanjorksi’s Republican Opponent Hopes Third Try Is The Charm

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WILKES BARRE, Penn. – The credit unions’ aging congressional champion Paul Kanjorski, who narrowly won over Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta in 2002 and 2008, is facing the determined Republican challenger a third time – and this time the 73-year-old incumbent appears to be in for the run of his political life.

“I honestly think he’s probably done. The wave is so strong for Republicans,” said Terry Madonna, a political pollster at Franklin & Marshall College and an expert on Keystone State politics. Madonna, who will conduct his biennial poll of the Kanjorski/Barletta race next month, noted that while Kanjorski beat Barletta in 2002 by 13 points, in 2008 the margin had narrowed to just 4 points, 52% to 48%, after a last-minute push for Kanjorski by out-of-state interest groups including the National Association of REALTORS, the National Association of Homebuilders and the credit union lobby. “In a year that Obama was winning the state by 10 percentage points, he won by only four,” said Madonna.

Kanjorski, the leading credit union ally in Congress for many years, acknowledged the stiff opposition in Barletta. “Right now I’m optimistic that we’re OK,” he told Credit Union Journal. “It depends on what the national wind is. It appears the Republicans may have peaked over the last few weeks, but that remains to be seen. I’m optimistic that we’ll win it.”

But Republican candidates appear to be surging across the state of Pennsylvania, according to pollster Madonna, who expects as many as five of the 11 sitting Democrats to get knocked off on election day, including Kanjorski, now in his 13th term. He cited lack of enthusiasm among Democrat voters and the rising anti-Obama vote.

Ever since he drafted HR 1151, the 1998 CU Membership Access Act, Kanjorski has been a staunch credit union supporter. Through the years he has led the fight for numerous credit union bills, and quickly drafted legislation last year for the corporate credit union bailout after the financial condition deteriorated over a matter of six months.

Barletta, 54, received national attention because of an anti-immigrant city ordinance he sponsored for Hazelton that eventually was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Barletta’s leadership on the issue attracted national money for his 2008 campaign from anti-immigration groups. In the final days of the 2008 campaign, Kanjorski was backed by $834,000 of independent ads by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and $889,000 by the National Association of REALTORs, as well as last-minute contributions from WesCorp FCU, Visa USA, Citibank, Harrah's Entertainment and others, according to Federal Election Commission reports. The Pennsylvania CU Association also spent $57,000 for independent mailings in the final weeks of the campaign on behalf of the 12-term congressman, and NAFCU sent volunteers to go door to door for him.

Saving Kanjorski is more important than ever for the credit union lobby because he is now a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and is chairman of one of its powerful subcommittees, the panel on government sponsored enterprises. But even he conceded the possibility he may lose that powerful perch if the Republicans win control of the House, as many observers expect.

The credit union groups have made it clear that helping to save Kanjorski is one of their top priorities this election and they are prepared to make special efforts on his behalf in the final days, either with funding or with volunteers to man the campaign.

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