Labor Union Boss 'Wouldn't Bet the Ranch' on Dems Taking House

The AFL-CIO's president said the president must talk about jobs to duplicate the lead among union members he enjoyed in 2008.

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka "wouldn't bet the ranch" on Democrats retaking the House of Representatives this fall, he said Thursday morning.

While he predicted that Democrats would hold the White House ("it will be a close race") and the Senate ("in some instances because of a little bit of luck") and would gain House seats, he stopped notably short of predicting a Democratic hat trick in November. "That remains to be seen," he said of a Democratic House majority. "That's a possibility. I wouldn't rule that out but I wouldn't bet the ranch on that this time. We'll see what happens."

If the GOP does retain control, AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer argued, it will be because of the mountains of corporate dollars pouring into House races thanks to the Citizens United decision. "Except for the extraordinary amount of money going into the House from outside groups … this would be another wave election for the Democrats," said Podhorzer, who appeared with Trumka at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. He cited responses to the Gallup poll question about whether most members of the House deserve re-election. In other recent wave years—1994, 2006, and 2010—he said that 50-60 percent of respondents have said no. "Right now," he said, "it's 76 percent." (That's actually not entirely accurate: Gallup's most recent figure is indeed 76 percent, but it was from last December; Congress's job approval rating has crept up over the course of the year from 11 percent to 16 percent, which puts it in line with the average of 17 percent approval since the start of 2010—none of which particularly undermines his point.)

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

This isn't to say that while the union opposes the Citizens United decision ("it's corrosive to the system," Trumka said), they aren't taking advantage of it. While unions are prohibited from using their money to communicate with non-union members, Trumka said, Citizens United allows them, through their so-called "super PAC," called Workers Voice, to reach out to non-union workers.

And that could redound to Obama's and the Democrats' benefit in a big way. According to Trumka:

Obama lost white men in the last election by 16 points but he won white union men by 18 points. That's a 34 point spread. He lost white women by 7 percent but he won white union women by 47 percent. That's a 54 percent swing. He lost weekly churchgoers by 50 percent but he won weekly churchgoers who are union member by 1 percent. The same thing goes on for gunowners, veterans, 65 year and older, there's a tremendous union advantage for our program.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Trumka said that his best advice for Obama winning back working class whites is: "Keep talking about jobs, jobs, and more jobs."

That seems sound. In case that's not enough, however, he pledged that the unions will train 400,000 volunteers before the election (with 300,000 of them "already on the line") spread out over more than 20 battleground states. He said that the AFL-CIO has already had full-time staffers in a half-dozen "core" states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Florida.