The Democrats will depend on labor unions — the shock troops of their political campaigns — to offset two new developments this election cycle: Tea Party enthusiasm and corporations’ ability to spend unlimited amounts thanks to a Supreme Court ruling.
Labor leaders, alarmed at a possible Republican takeover of one or both Houses of Congress, promise to devote a record amount of money and manpower to helping Democrats stave off disaster. But political analysts, and union leaders themselves, say that their efforts may not be enough because union members, like other important parts of the Democratic base, are not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the party — a reality that, in turn, further dampens the Democrats’ chances of holding onto their Congressional majorities.
“The problem for us is to really re-excite the rank and file to the greatest degree possible,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and chairman of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s political committee. “They’ve been disappointed that the House and Senate haven’t done more, especially to create jobs.”
It is a measure of the dread among Democrats and their labor allies that several unions are no longer threatening to withhold endorsements from some conservative or moderate Democrats, like Representative Zack Space of Ohio, because they had bucked labor on health care legislation or other issues. Now, unions are generally backing those Democrats, feeling labor cannot afford such a strategy when the Democrats’ prospects seem so troubled.
“People are evaluating this a little bit differently from three months ago,” said Jon Youngdahl, political director of the Service Employees International Union. “Our goal obviously is to have a majority for Speaker Pelosi next year. That’s driving a lot of decisions.”
The stakes of labor’s participation may be even higher this year than in 2008 when new voters, including students, came out in droves, overwhelmingly supporting President Obama and the Democrats. Political experts say these midterms, unlike in 2008, will not be a “surge” election — students, for instance, are markedly less passionate about the Democrats this year.
In a base election, the party that gets its traditional supporters out to vote is more likely to carry the day. And the Republicans’ base, which may be angry and insurgent, is highly motivated to topple the Democrats on Capitol Hill.
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