CHICAGO (PAI) – Union leaders and members are in a mad dash to the finish for the 2010 election cycle with leaders crisscrossing the country to concentrate on key races – even phone-banking on Election Day itself – while workers are making home visits, giving shop-floor talks and leafleting.

Swallowing hard, some unions are even backing House Democrats who had defied both workers’ wishes and Democratic President Barack Obama in the last two years – all in the hopes of keeping a Democratic majority there.

The AFL-CIO expanded its targeted races to a roster that includes more than 100 U.S. House seats, including Democrats such as Frank Kratovil, of Maryland’s Eastern shore. Kratovil, representing a conservative district and a very narrow winner in 2008, voted against Obama’s health insurance revision law and other key priorities.

The Fire Fighters in particular came to Kratovil’s aid by partially bankrolling an ad blitz by an independent expenditure group against the congressman’s foe, a radical right former GOP state legislator whom Kratovil narrowly edged two years ago.

When it comes to Kratovil and the others, “The situation is: Will you support a mediocre Democrat or let a rabid Republican get in?” according to one political operative.

Obama himself got in on the act, telling union political volunteers in an Oct. 26 conference call that success at the polls depended on them.

Enthusiasm among union members was also rising as the election neared, with one phone bank site in Chicago overwhelmed by the number of workers volunteering to make calls. It had 70 phones – and more than 100 who wanted to talk.

Labor aimed to have at least 90,000 volunteers working on the pre-Election Day weekend and through Nov. 2, not counting those from SEIU, the Teamsters, and UFCW. Those three unions planned to have tens of thousands more at worksites. Campaign officials also set targets for the final weekend of 5.6 million phone calls, 4.1 million home visits and passing out 1.9 million flyers at 2,500 work sites. And the independent National Education Association spent $15 million on ads in races where education was expected to be a key issue.

But labor also faced an ever-expanding political landscape, as lawmakers once thought to be “safe” found themselves in unexpectedly tough races because of millions of dollars of corporate-financed campaign ads lavished on their opponents.

Typical was Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He got in trouble for supporting calls, by SEIU among others, for conventions and conferences to boycott Arizona after the GOP-dominated state government enacted an anti-Latino immigrant profiling law. Corporations poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads against Grijalva, working through front groups.

Top union leaders concentrated on campaigning in states with tough races. Leaders also hit two 2008 “swing states,” Colorado and Ohio, for U.S. Senate races.

Federation President Richard Trumka spent Oct. 29 leafleting and phone banking in Chicago before returning to his home state of Pennsylvania – with a side trip to Columbus, Ohio in the final days before the balloting. Pro-worker Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., is trailing an anti-worker GOP construction contractor, while State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is neck-and-neck with Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., for an open U.S. Senate seat.

In his own home area of western Pennsylvania, Trumka is stumping with Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, against radical right Pat Toomey, R-Pa., former head of the pro-corporate Club for Growth. Meanwhile in the Keystone State, one non-partisan poll showed GOP state official Tom Corbett with a shrinking lead – down to 5%, from 15% the week before -over Democratic Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) Executive Dan Onofrio in the race for the open governor’s chair.

Federation Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler is playing tag-team with Trumka, going from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, where GOP U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul, a tea party favorite, has dropped into a neck-and-neck race with Democratic state official Jack Conway, then on to Los Angeles, and for the last two days of the campaign, Chicago.

Shuler’s California stop is a get-out-the-vote operation for gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., plus an endangered Democratic congresswoman. Interestingly, Shuler’s home state, Oregon, was not on her late schedule. But she went there, for Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Kitzhaber, earlier in October.

Federation Executive Vice President Arlene Holt-Baker is traveling from Philadelphia to Connecticut to Cincinnati and then back to Philly, for both Sestak and Onofrio. The Bridgeport, Conn. stop was to aid both U.S. Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal, the state attorney general who faces the self-funded multi-million-dollar campaign of World Wrestling CEO Linda McMahon, and Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who won a traditionally moderate Republican House seat two years ago.




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.