Magazine article Insight on the News

Look for the Union Label: Labor Targets GOP Freshmen in a Bid to Restore Democratic Control of the House and Reelect Clinton

Magazine article Insight on the News

Look for the Union Label: Labor Targets GOP Freshmen in a Bid to Restore Democratic Control of the House and Reelect Clinton

Article excerpt

Organized labor traditionally enters campaign seasons with strong grassroots support and cash-filled coffers. But in 1994 the unions failed to turn out voters and relay their message for the election that yielded the first Republican Congress in 40 years. Now they're hoping to recapture a Democratic majority while carrying President Clinton to a second term.

This year, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney plans to pour $35 million and pack campaign workers into 75 volatile congressional districts. The labor federation wants to oust freshman Republican House members and other vulnerable GOP incumbents by linking them to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and proposed spending curbs in Medicare and education. In freshman Iowa Republican Greg Ganske's district, a recent AFL-CIO ad announces: "He went along with Newt Gingrich and shut down the government. But he kept taking his own paychecks and perks. Let's tell Congressman Ganske to stop the political games and stand up for working families for a change."

The working middle class -- typically part of the Democrats' core constituency -- is widely believed by analysts of both parties to have joined what some call the politically homeless, those who feel alienated by the major parties and who stayed home in stayed home in 1994. Nevertheless, exit polls suggest that union members provided Clinton with 25 percent of his votes four years ago, and their leaders plan to organize key swing districts to get them to the polls again. William Hamilton, political director of the Teamsters union, says that this time they have to make an effort to educate members about the candidates rather than telling them who to vote for. "What we found after the 1994 election was that our members felt that the unions had become too partisan," he tells Insight. "We were automatically genuflecting for any Democrat."

But a campaign against Republican freshmen seems to be mission of the `96 Project -- formerly known as the'95 Project -- a nonprofit coalition of labor unions and liberal groups led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The coalition, which includes the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters, has pledged more than $1 million to set up shop in 18 congressional districts across the country to "analyze the issues being debated in Congress and make sure there is a full debate and dialogue in local districts," says Scott Wolf, the '96 Project's executive director.

But the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, sees this as a partisan effort. It filed a complaint Feb. 13 with the Federal Election Commission charging that the '96 Project already has violated federal election law by using union dues to urge the defeat of several Republican freshmen. …

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