Labor steps up efforts to prevent GOP takeover

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Pollsters are now beginning to predict a better election night for Democrats than they were expecting up until now, with the unprecedented campaign the labor movement has mounted getting much of the credit.

With only 18 days left until Election Day, an NPR survey of likely voters in battleground districts found that Democrats, having improved their position in 58 of the battleground districts, are closing the gap. In June, Democratic candidates trailed their Republican opponents in these districts by eight points and now, the GOP advantage is only 3 points, within the margin of error.

Things have shifted even in the 10 battleground states in the NPR survey that are currently held by Republicans. In June, the Republican advantage in those seats was 16 points; now it's seven.

The polling firm interviewed 1,200 "likely voters" in the battleground districts from Oct. 7 - 10. Calls were not made to cell phone users. Leaving out the younger, more Democrtatic-leaning voters could mean, analysts say, that the GOP advantage is actually narrower or may not exist at all.

Karen Ackerman, political action director for the AFL-CIO, agrees that Democrats will do far better than what pundits predict and said that, since June, there have been double-digit gains made by Democratic candidates in districts where labor has been active.

She reported that union volunteers in these districts have knocked, so far, on 1.3 million doors and have made more than 23 million phone calls. Union members at 4,000 worksites have received visits about the elections, she added, "and at those worksites and other places we have distributed 17.5 million pieces of literature."

Ackerman said there are at least four Republican seats where Democrats can win, meaning that Republicans would need to net a total of 59 percent of the remaining 75 or so competitive seats to win control of the House. When a Democratic wave swept that party into control of the House in 2006 the Democrats won only 56 percent of the GOP seats in contention.

Beyond just election statistics, however, the labor movement has in its favor that of the 75 battleground seats, 37 have more than 40,000 union members. "Our members are where the races are," said Ackerman.

Adding to the hopes of those expecting Democrats to hold off a Republican takeover in Congress are the early voting operations in Ohio and Iowa, where turnout is large and Democrats are said to be winning.

A spokesman for the union, Unite Here, said she was happy about the prospects for early Voting in Nevada where, starting Monday, the union will shuttle its members from their homes to the polls.   

The massive ground game by the labor movement is, observers say, the only way that labor and its allies can deal with the biggest spending frenzy in history by big-business in a mid-term election. Since a recent Supreme Court ruling, big corporations can now funnel millions of dollars into campaigns - and no one even has to disclose where the money comes from.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne said, "Corporate-backed groups are doing the dirty work for Republicans. They are doing the dirty work of pounding their Democratic opponents in commercials for which no one is accountable. The Republican candidates can shrug an innocent 'Who, me?' Deniability is a wonderful thing."

Improved performance by Democrats in the face of all the spending for Republicans is not the only difficulty GOP candidates had to deal with this weekend, however. At least two of the party's Senatorial candidates found themselves, on national television, unable to explain how they would pay for the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich that they support.

On Sunday morning news shows, both Republican Senate candidates, Carly Fiorina in California and Ken Buck in Colorado, struggled to give specifics about how they would reduce the deficit while also supporting an expensive extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

Despite the fact that commentators have repeatedly asked Republicans this question they have almost always stumbled over it during debates or interviews.

Photo: SEIU local 1991 members participating in a phone bank for Florida Senate candidate Kendrick Meek. http://www.seiu1991.org/Making_Calls_for_Kendrick_Meek.aspx

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