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Labor's Boots on the Ground

By Alec MacGillis
As if the Obama campaign did not already have a formidable enough turnout operation, the AFL-CIO today announced the details of its own unprecedented effort to get out the vote among its membership in key states.

The labor coalition says it will deploy 250,000 volunteers in 20 battleground states during the next two weeks, focused on turning out 13 million voters with an emphasis on 12 Senate races and five dozen House races in addition to the presidential race.

The coalition, which has invested $53 million this election cycle on top of millions more by its member unions, is focused above all on Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, with 120,000 of the volunteers contacting members there. But it is also sending more resources than usual to Indiana and North Carolina, where Obama is keeping the polls close.

To date, the coalition says its members have received 70 million phone calls, 10 million door knocks, 57 million pieces of mail and 27 million worksite fliers focusing on economic issues. It has used microtargeting techniques to deliver its message to discreet groups, such as working-class veterans and gun owners. And it has broadened its outreach to include members of Working America, a new organization created by the coalition for workers who can't join unions at their jobs.

Turnout and voter contact claims are always to be taken with a grain of salt, but the AFL-CIO and the unions in the rival Change to Win coalition have shown in the past few presidential elections that their efforts do have an impact. In 2004, union members and their families in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan voted Democratic at far higher rates than nonunion white working class voters, and they also turned out at disproportionately high rates, as well, exit polls showed.

This year, unions have been working particularly hard to convince members to vote for Obama, despite whatever reservations they might have about voting for a first-term, African-American senator whom few had heard of until a couple years ago.

AFL-CIO mailings have explicitly addressed some of the false rumors about Obama, and at a steelworkers convention in July, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka made a strikingly direct appeal against racial resistance to Obama.

Trumka declared that "there's not a single good reason for any worker -- especially any union member -- to vote against Barack Obama" and that "there's only one really bad reason to vote against him: because he's not white." And he recounted his response to an elderly woman in his Pennsylvania hometown who said she wouldn't vote for Obama because he was black.

"Nemacolin is a dying town," he told her. "There's no jobs here. Our kids are moving away because there's no future here. And here's a man, Barack Obama, who's gonna fight for people like us. And you wanna tell me that you won't vote for him because of the color of his skin? Are you out of your ever-lovin' mind, lady?"

Union officials say the success of their outreach can already be seen in Obama's surge in the polls in Pennsylvania and Michigan -- though Ohio remains close.

The coalition's polling shows that since mid-August, union members have markedly increased their margin of preference for Obama. Union members who are gun owners have doubled their margin of preference, give him a roughly 15 percentage point lead. Active union members in Ohio and Pennsylvania have tripled their margin for Obama, to 21 points, and retired union members nationally have nearly doubled their margin for him, to about 28 points.

By Web Politics Editor  |  October 21, 2008; 3:12 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , The Green Zone  
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Obama seems to be outspending McCain by a huge rate and the race is still this close? OUCH! That has got to bite.

Posted by: huhmmm31 | October 21, 2008 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I've said all along that people drew the wrong conclusions about Penn and Ohio from the primaries. Hillary won there because she had the backing of the democratic machine, led by Rendell and Strickland.

To say that people in Penn and Ohio are racist is to say that people in Massachusetts, where Menino and his machine also supported HRC, who won the primary by a greater margin than in Penn or Ohio, are racist.

And while there might be a grain of truth to that, Obama is winning Mass, Penn and Ohio.

Posted by: jrob822 | October 21, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

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