NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The fight is on in this state.
Millions of dollars are being poured into television and radio ads to convince voters to support tea party Republican Linda McMahon for the open U.S. Senate seat and smear her opponent, Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. But an intensive campaign by union members knocking on the doors of their co-workers' homes to talk about the elections is breaking through the noise.
This summer, when the Labor 2010 effort began, polls showed McMahon, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO, in a dead heat with Blumenthal. Now, two weeks before Election Day, Blumenthal has pulled ahead by 9 points. It is a tough race.
"We are fighting for jobs"
"Yes, people are angry and hurting," says John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which is mobilizing to elect Blumenthal. "We have to show them that it's exactly the things they're angry about that we are fighting for!"
With 9.4% of Connecticut's residents and 31% of all Hartford residents living below the poverty line, and 9.1% officially unemployed in the state, jobs, education, health care and retirement security are at the top of labor's agenda.
Playing to the number one issue of jobs, McMahon claims to be on the side of working people. Yet her support for continuing tax cuts for the richest 1 percent while cutting social programs, and her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act which would give workers a fairer chance to organize a union, place her squarely on the side of the Wall Street crowd.
Her program mirrors the Republican Pledge to America agenda (a re-make of Newt Gingrich's disastrous 1994 Contract on America), which calls for a repeal of health care reform, a repeal of regulation of business, cancellation of stimulus funds for states and cities, and a hiring freeze on all government workers. It's open season on Social Security, unemployment insurance, pensions for public workers and the minimum wage.
In stark contrast, Blumenthal has focused his campaign on ending tax breaks for corporations who move jobs overseas, and creating incentives for job creation in Connecticut, while opposing corporate policies "that put profits before people." His campaign follows the highlights of his 20-year career in which he took on such corporate giants as the tobacco industry, United Technologies Corp and Stanley Works and won.
"Sisters and brothers"
Speaking to a gathering of Labor 2010 volunteers last Saturday, Blumenthal moved the crowd when he said that through the years he has learned when union members call each other "brother" and "sister," it is because they are a family that sticks together no matter what. "Your support as sisters and brothers means more than anything to me," he said to a standing ovation.
While Blumenthal's program could be stronger in many respects, he is ready to stand up against right-wing reaction and extremism and defend the role of government to serve the needs of the people.
McMahon and the Republicans are going for the jugular. To create confusion and demoralize voters from coming to the polls, millions of dollars of smear ads portraying Blumenthal as a liar are being poured into the last days of the campaign on the side of big corporations, topping off the $41 million that Linda McMahon already spent of her own money.
Two Connecticut incumbent congressmen, Jim Himes (D-4) and Chris Murphy (D-5), are among 19 House candidates targeted for last-minute attack ads by Karl Rove's American Action Network (AAN). Similar attacks are being carried out against progressives around the country including Raul Grijalva in Arizona, Barney Frank in Massachusetts and Chellie Pingree in Maine.
Going onto the offensive, over 100 residents of the 5th Congressional District turned out to denounce the ads and stand behind Chris Murphy this week. This came in response to an $800,000 ad campaign which says that by voting for health care reform Murphy supports "Viagra for sex offenders." Murphy called AAN "a shadowy group fronted by billionaires, multinational corporations and outsourcers."
The race for governor in Connecticut is also close. Democrat Dan Malloy is just 5 points ahead of Republican Tom Foley, who has said he will gut state workers' health care and pensions.
Turnout will decide the results
In Connecticut, as elsewhere, voter turnout will decide the winner. When voters and working people get a clear idea of the stakes in this election they respond enthusiastically. "We just vote in the presidential years," said one couple at the door. Ten minutes later, having heard about how control of the House and Senate are at stake this year, they readily agreed to vote and tell their friends.
"I always vote," said Jose, who was washing his car in front of his house. He began to discuss how undemocratic the tea party program is, and how important it is to support the efforts of the Obama administration to keep the country moving forward. At first when he was asked to volunteer he said he was too busy. But the enormity of the election prompted him to agree to put in a few hours campaigning.
The win on election night will be much more than which candidate is elected. At the end of the day, the new volunteers and a strengthened labor movement will be the biggest victory.
Photo: Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is greeted with a standing ovation at a labor rally for his Senate campaign, Oct. 6 in New Haven. (PW/Henry Lowendorf)