SEIU Flexes Muscle

Union to Sink Resources Into Races for Congress

Posted January 28, 2008 at 6:46pm

The Service Employees International Union would like to deliver a filibuster-proof Senate to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in November, and the 1.9 million-strong union plans on spending a significant chunk of its nearly $100 million political budget to do it.

SEIU leaders are targeting at least seven Senate races and around a dozen House contests, believing their ability to affect public policy lies as much in diminishing the Republicans’ demonstrated ability to block

union-favored legislation in Congress as it does in electing a Democrat to the White House — if not more so. The union also is playing in various Democratic primaries, including backing attorney Donna Edwards in her bid to oust Rep. Albert Wynn in Maryland on Feb. 12.

A key element of the SEIU’s strategy involves paying 2,000 union members the equivalent of their salaries so they can take either a full- or part-time leave of absence from their jobs to work on Democratic campaigns in Congressional races the union has prioritized. Additionally, the SEIU plans to deploy about 100,000 volunteers into the field nationwide for voter-turnout activities.

“SEIU members are already working in districts across the country to support pro-worker candidates for Congress,” SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said Monday. “We know that it’s not enough to elect a new president in November. We also need a majority in the House and Senate who will stand with working people.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, not surprised to hear that its candidates are being targeted by a labor union, insists that it that is prepared to hold its ground against an SEIU onslaught that could include television and radio ads, phone banks, direct mail and door-to-door get-out-the-vote activities.

“If there is one constant in Congressional campaigns, it is labor unions dumping millions into races on behalf of Democrats,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “Our candidates will be well-prepared for this inevitability.”

Mindful that Senate Republicans have used the 60-vote filibuster threshold to block a series of Democratic-supported bills, the SEIU is looking to help expand the Democrats’ narrow 51-49 majority. Aware also that the numbers of House Republicans are still strong enough to sustain presidential vetoes, the union is looking to grow Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) 16-seat majority.

Consequently, the union is targeting Senate races in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia, in addition to House contests in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington. The list is in flux and is based on what SEIU leaders currently believe are the best Democratic pickup opportunities.

The SEIU’s targeted House races include open seat contests in Arizona’s 1st district; Illinois’ 11th, 14th and 18th; Minnesota’s 3rd; New Mexico’s 1st; New Jersey’s 7th; and Ohio’s 15th. The union also will target Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Tim Walberg (Mich.), Joe Knollenberg (Mich.) and Dave Reichert (Wash.).

On the Senate side, ensuring that Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and not former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colo.) succeeds retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R) is of particular importance to the union. The SEIU is engaged in an operation to register new Democratic voters in the Centennial State, especially in the Latino and black communities.

“It’s really a priority state for us,” SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said. “We’re doing lots of work there.”

Although individual GOP House and Senate candidates have been successful at raising money for their individual bids, the Republican Congressional campaign committees face significant fundraising deficits compared with their Democratic counterparts. The SEIU could add to the GOP’s woes, as it spent $65 million during the 2004 cycle and plans to drop more than $75 million into the presidential and Congressional races this time around.

But the Republican National Committee may have the resources to stave off the labor union’s assault. The RNC continues to outraise the Democratic National Committee, and in 2004 was successful at utilizing micro-targeting and a massive volunteer effort to help re-elect President Bush and expand what at the time were Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

“We believe that the victory, get-out-the-vote program we’re putting in place will benefit Republicans up and down the ticket,” RNC spokesman Danny Diaz said. “It’s an operation we’re committed to, and has demonstrated great results in previous elections.”

In the 2004 cycle, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the NRSC raised more money than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, respectively. The Republicans are not likely to enjoy that same advantage this November, if current fundraising trends at the four Congressional campaign committees hold up.

The fourth-quarter Federal Election Commission reports are due Thursday, and could show GOP gains. But as of Nov. 30, the DCCC led the NRCC in cash on hand by $28 million, while the DSCC had a $15 million cash advantage over the NRSC.

Meanwhile, the SEIU’s plans this cycle involve doing much of what has worked for it in the past, while also making certain adjustments. Of the 2,000 full- and part-time paid political operatives that the SEIU will assign to various House and Senate races this year, about two-thirds of those will work full time on their designated races.

In a change from previous cycles, however, the union does not plan to send those operatives on the road. Rather, the SEIU plans to assign the majority of them to races in their home states and home districts in order to utilize the friends-and-family, word-of-mouth approach to voter-turnout politics. In fact, having get-out-the-vote volunteers focus their efforts on their home towns and home neighborhoods worked to great effect for Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004.

In another relatively new effort, the SEIU is courting the 30 percent of its members who are Republican via its GOP Member Advisory Committee. In doing so, the SEIU is hoping to increase the percentage of its membership that is politically active, and by extension enhance its ability to influence electoral contests.