- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2010

Several black and Hispanic members of the House Democratic caucus are defending comments earlier this week by Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski that could hurt his bid in November for a 14th term. But a key political report indicates Mr. Kanjorski’s 25-year hold on the seat was starting to slip long before the comments Wednesday.

The non-partisan Cook Political Report has changed its forecast for the Pennsylvania House race from “leaning Democrat” to a “toss up.”

Cook analyst Dave Wasserman said he made the change based largely on recent poll numbers and before Mr. Kanjorski’s verbal gaffe Wednesday, but said his comments “played into what we already knew about him.”

During a House hearing related to Wall Street reform and homeowner assistance programs, Mr. Kanjorski defended federal spending to help homeowners facing economic hardship by saying the money was not going to minorities or “defective” applicants but to “average, good American people.”

“Because of the longevity of this recession, these are people — and they’re not minorities and they’re not defective and they’re not all the things you’d like to insinuate that these programs are about — these are average, good American people,” he said, in remarks that were quickly posted on YouTube.

Mr. Kanjorski, is locked in a tight re-election race with Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, whom he defeated twice, most recently in 2008.

Mr. Wasserman said the red flags for Mr. Kanjorski started to show last month when he won just 49 percent of the primary vote against a “weak” county commissioner and another minor challenger.  

“Any time an incumbent falls below 50 percent of the vote in a primary, it’s a serious sign of danger,”  wrote Mr. Wasserman. Such numbers suggest “many Democrats in the district have reservations about Kanjorski’s ethics and believe it’s time for someone new. … And now Barletta is back for round three.”

In the letter signed by Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters of California.; Melvin L. Watt of North Carolina; Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland; Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois; and Gregory Meeks of New York, Mr. Kanjoriski’s House defenders said they were “greatly disturbed” by the distortions of the comments.

“We know Congressman Kanjorski is a strong supporter of minorities and all Americans,” the letter said. “It is most unfortunate that Republicans are trying to direct attention away from his significant legislative contributions to the Wall Street reform bill.”

None of the 29 Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee, where Mr. Kanjorski chairs a key subcommittee, signed the letter. And neither did nine other minority committee members, including Rep. Al Green, Texas Democrat and a former NAACP official; Andre Carson, Indiana Democrat; and Keith Ellison,  Minnesota Democrat. The three did not return calls or e-mails seeking a response.

Kanjorski spokeswoman Abigail McDonough has said the congressman was fighting for government programs to help those hurt by the recession and was trying to push back against charges that those seeking government help were not looking for work.

“Anyone trying to politicize this issue clearly doesn’t get it,” she said.

The congressman has not apologized.

Mr. Wasserman also said the only factors keeping Mr. Kanjorski competitive in the race this fall are Mr. Barletta’s staunch illegal-immigration stance, which has divided voters in the Democratic-leaning district, and backing from national Democratic Party officials hoping to save the seat.

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