Participation by 15,000 unemployed workers, Sept. 14, in Working America's tele-town hall on the November elections has Republican candidates so nervous that a tea party aspirant for the U.S. Senate has had to apologize for slandering the jobless.
"Forget teachers and firefighters," writes Delen Golberg for the Howard Scripps News Service. "Unemployed workers are the special interest group to watch this election."
Confirming this assessment, Working America, the AFL-CIO's community affiliate, is organizing and mobilizing unemployed workers to go to the polls in November to make sure that candidates who don't support the jobless join them in the unemployment lines.
The jobless rolls have swelled in all of the states where the biggest election battles are taking place.
In Nevada, for example, the jobless make up a bigger portion of the electorate than the state's 168,000 independent voters, with experts saying the unemployed could well decide the outcome of the race.
Nevada leads the country now in unemployment, with an official jobless rate of 14.3 percent.
Unemployed workers there have reacted angrily to remarks by Sharron Angle, the tea party challenger to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, in which she characterized jobless people collecting benefits as "spoiled."
Angle said she made a "mistake" but reiterated her opposition to extensions of unemployment benefits, saying they result in "people who are afraid to go out and get a job because the job doesn't pay as much as the benefit."
Online forums for the unemployed in Nevada show a strong trend in favor of Reid In 50 postings on the Nevada page of unemployedfriends.com , not one person backed Angle or the GOP.
"Calling me spoiled is not the way to get me to choose her. She was being insulting to me on a personal level," said Stephanie Moreno, a painter unemployed since last spring. "She doesn't know the things that I've lost like my home, my vehicle. This month I'll lose my personal health insurance. If she thinks she's so high up there, she can come spend a day with me and see what I go through."
At the tele-town hall unemployed workers said they preferred Democrats because of their job creation proposals, their support for extension of unemployment benefits, their support for the stimulus package, and because of their support for tougher regulations on big business.
With an official unemployment rate nationally near ten percent, Working America's Karen Nussbaum says her group is working to turn out the unemployed at the polls by making sure they know where all candidates stand on the issues of job creation, unemployment benefits and outsourcing of jobs.
Activists in the group's Unemployed Voter Project reach voters at unemployment centers, job training centers, through neighborhood canvassing and, as of this week, through massive telephone conferences.
During this week's tele-town hall the group launched a "Pledge to Vote" postcard campaign. The idea is for unemployed voters to write notes to other unemployed workers, encouraging them to vote.
"You don't think of unemployed workers as an interest group, probably because we have never had such a large-scale effort to organize them for an election," said Emmelle Israel, Working America's Las Vegas coordinator. "Elections are a really big opportunity for the unemployed to have a voice."
Polls show clearly that the unemployed, if mobilized, can decide a close election.
All of the major surveys in Nevada now show Reid and Angle in a virtual tie, but polls of unemployed workers show Reid ahead 48 to 39 percent.
Working America began the Unemployed Voter Project in early August by starting with its own unemployed members who are registered voters.
Field organizers in 12 cities met with the jobless, asking them to fill out "Help Wanted" petitions to send to Congress asking lawmakers what they had done to create jobs and help the unemployed.
Working America also manages the Unemployment Lifeline, www.unemploymentlifeline.com, an online site for jobless workers to communicate with other unemployed workers and access vital local and national resources, such as listings for local unemployment offices, childcare and healthcare facilities.
Beginning in October, workers will be able to use Job Tracker, another Working America online resource, to look up companies in their towns that are outsourcing jobs, endangering their workers or violating their rights at work.