Turnout key in dead-heat elections

We are “One Vote Away” from right-wing control of all three branches of the federal government warns People For the American Way (PFAW) in a television ad being aired in states where Senate races are too close to call.

The far right is “just one vote away” from putting the likes of Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch in charge of the Senate, the group says. “Today, right-wing Republicans control the White House and House of Representatives. The 5-4 ‘states’ rights’ majority on the Supreme Court is turning back the clock … If Republicans take the Senate in November, that last check in our federal system will be gone,” referring to the Democrats one-seat majority.

Right-wing control would be “devastating for reproductive rights and privacy, environmental protection, civil rights, Social Security and Medicare, corporate accountability, health care, religious liberty, public education, workers’ rights and more,” PFAW continues.

With this sense of urgency, an unprecedented grassroots get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort is underway in the days remaining before the Nov. 5 elections, with turnout seen as key to defeating the ultra-right.

In northeast Minnesota, union voters will play a critical role in helping re-elect pro-labor Sen. Paul Wellstone. The Bush administration has made no secret that it is itching to defeat Wellstone. Duluth Central Labor Council President Alan Netland told the World his council is running a “very good, coordinated” get-out-the-vote campaign involving all 65 union affiliates, with a membership of about 15,000. Every member is receiving a mailing from his or her union leader as well as individual phone calls. “We’re making the mailings not too glossy,” Netland said, “so people don’t automatically pitch them out but actually read them.”

The national AFL-CIO and unions including State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), Clothing Workers (UNITE), Steelworkers and Mine Workers have sent in campaign workers at an “unprecedented” level, Netland said.

Throughout Minnesota labor is emphasizing member-to-member contact at worksites, “ramping up” workplace flyer distributions at shift changes, and working phonebanks in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Rochester and Mankato as well as Duluth, Tom Beer, labor coordinator for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party’s Coordinated Campaign, told the World. The labor effort this year is “pretty unprecedented” in both the variety of activities and the number of affiliated unions participating, Beer said. The high-stakes race for control of Congress and the targeting of Wellstone by “conservative special interests” has sparked a tremendous upsurge among working-class Minnesotans, he said. “Wellstone is the labor senator and makes no bones about it,” Beer commented. “People will fight for those who fight for them.”

In South Dakota, where the ultra-right is seeking to defeat Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, state AFL-CIO President Gil Koetzle said his federation is “breaking absolute new ground” in pulling out the vote for Johnson, who has a 92 percent lifetime pro-labor record. Johnson’s right-wing Republican challenger, Rep. Jim Thune, has a 13 percent record on labor issues, and is among the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen,” with a 0 rating on environmental issues.

Labor is in this election as “never ever before” – previous involvement was “maybe 10 percent” of this year’s effort, Koetzle told the World.

The South Dakota federation has assigned six staff full time to the GOTV effort. They have divided the state into three zones with roughly 65 coordinators, a contact person in every union local. They will contact every member and retiree face to face and twice by phone. They plan to reach 15-16,000 households by the Saturday before Election Day.

The federation is following up voter registration with a massive “never seen” GOTV effort in the Native American reservations, including Election Day drives to the polls. Native Americans on the reservations are ignored by the polls because they often don’t have phones or a voting history, Koetzle said, but they well understand the issues.

In St. Louis, Mo., some 3-4,000 union members are expected to participate in the Central Labor Council’s Oct. 26-27 mobilization to re-elect Sen. Jean Carnahan. Her opponent, Republican Rep. Jim Talent, has an anti-labor record and is another of the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen.” The St. Louis NAACP is issuing a candidates’ report card showing Talent has the worst civil rights record of all Missouri congressmembers.

The Carpenters’ Union has sent a mailing to 8,000 members backing Carnahan, and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Hotel and Restaurant Workers, Service Employees, AFSCME and community groups are conducting big GOTV campaigns.

Maine’s labor and progressive movement has been energized by the race for Congress of paperworker Michael Michaud, with a strong pro-worker record as a state senator, and the U.S. Senate campaign of progressive Democrat Chellie Pingree. State AFL-CIO members are campaigning door-to-door in the state’s three largest cities: Portland, Bangor and Lewiston. With the races seen as tight down to the finish, “we have more rank and file members involved than ever,” Maine AFL-CIO President Ed Gorham told the World.

In this election, “the lines are drawn really clear,” Northern Valley Labor Council President Mark Froemke, in the Minnesota-North Dakota Red River Valley, told the World. “Even in small-density labor states, getting members out to vote can make the difference,” he said.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org