Georgia AFL Mulls Senate Endorsement

Posted May 19, 2004 at 6:34pm

The Georgia AFL-CIO is expected to issue its endorsement in the state’s Senate race this afternoon, as Democratic prospects of holding the seat of retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D) continue to look bleak eight weeks before the primary.

The labor group is considered likely to back Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.), if it chooses to endorse at all in the Democratic primary.

If the group remains neutral in the race, it would be considered a boon to the campaign of wealthy businessman Cliff Oxford. Both candidates have been lobbying hard for the labor endorsement, sources said.

Georgia AFL-CIO President Richard Ray said the ultimate determination will be made by members in Atlanta today after listening to the recommendations of the federation’s screening committee. In the end, candidate viability will be the primary factor in the group’s decision.

“They all seem to be good people,” Ray said of the Democratic field. “But to run a Senate race, it’s more than just being a good person.”

Majette defeated Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) in a contentious 2002 primary. In that race labor groups backed the incumbent, but since Majette’s election to Congress she has been considered a good friend to labor.

“They know Denise, they don’t know Oxford,” Ray said, referring to the AFL-CIO membership. “Our people need to feel good about somebody.”

A spokesman for Majette’s campaign said the Congresswoman “would be honored” to get the AFL-CIO endorsement, noting that she received her first union card at age 16, when she became a member of the Amalgamated Meatcutters and Retail Clerks union. The organization is now part of United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“Her record of fighting for working Georgia families is long and strong and she’d be honored to have their endorsement,” the spokesman said.

Still, some Democrats in the state view Oxford, who is expected to largely self-fund his race, as the party’s most viable nominee. They question whether Majette will be able to put together the resources and campaign infrastructure to run a competitive statewide race.

But Oxford — a virtually unknown 41-year-old self-made millionaire — also faces a tall order in introducing himself to Democratic voters in the next few weeks.

Oxford has said he plans to focus on the outsourcing of American jobs in his campaign — a message that resonates loudly with labor leaders.

He worked his way through college as a driver for the United Parcel Service. He eventually rose through the ranks of the company to become a regional technology director.

“I wish that he would have made up his mind to get in the race before he did,” Ray said. “That put him behind.”

The winner of the Democratic primary will face one of three Republicans vying for the party nomination: Rep. Johnny Isakson, Rep. Mac Collins or pizza magnate Herman Cain.