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Did labor just want to 'send a message' to Dems?

There's a bit of a meme bubbling up that organized labor never really thought Bill Halter could win the general election in Arkansas, and that unions spent millions primarying Blanche Lincoln for the sole reason that they wanted to send a message to Dems that they'd best shape up or else.

In a well argued post, Ezra Klein gives voice to this theory:

Labor wasn't pumping money into the race because they thought it was their best opportunity to replace a senator who was cool toward labor with a friendlier legislator. They were pumping money into the race because it was their best opportunity to show other senators that relying on labor to get elected and then opposing its agenda while in office could have consequences for your career...

Insofar as they wanted to prove that they could and would make an incumbent's life hell, they did it, and they did it in a low-consequences state. Going forward, when they march into someone's office and threaten a primary challenge if they don't stand with labor on this or that, the officeholder will think back to Lincoln's very-bad-year and listen. That was the point of labor's challenge. Electing Halter in Arkansas really wasn't.

I think this is only half right. Yes, it's absolutely true that the challenge was about putting Dems on notice that they'd better think hard before letting down unions on their core issues. We know this because labor officials have been saying it publicly for months.

But it's just not right that labor didn't think Halter could win the general election. One key reason they backed Halter was precisely because they thought Halter had a far better chance in a general than Lincoln did. The thinking was that in a bad year for incumbents, Lincoln had been irrevocably tainted as a D.C. insider. The GOP candidate was Congressman John Boozman, and labor officials believed Halter could more credibly run a populist outsider campaign against a sitting member of Congress than Lincoln could. That was the game plan.

Sure, shaking up establishment Dems and letting them know that they need to take labor more seriously was part of the motive. But labor officials really thought Lincoln's weakness gave them a shot at replacing her in the Senate with a candidate who was more reliable on their issues. Maybe those officials were wrong, but that's what they believed. This wasn't purely about "sending a message" to Dems that they'd best shape up or else. The unions were, in fact, in it to win it.

By Greg Sargent  |  June 10, 2010; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  2010 elections , Senate Dems  
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Next: White House officials make nice with labor


Makes sense, way to drill down Greg.

Speaking of drilling down...

This is OT, but I find the recent news from the WaPo poll about drilling expansion and greenhouse gas regulation to be STUNNING:

75% of Americans oppose expanded drilling (as the article you linked to this morning says).

BUT... check out these numbers on GHG regulation!

71% overall say yes, the EPA should regulate
52% feel strongly about that
55% of REPUBLICANS say yes, regulate
32% feel strongly about that!
69% of INDIES say yes, regulate
52% feel strongly about that

Those numbers are pretty huge if you ask me! And they totally destroy the GOP notion that Americans want LESS regulation and "SMALLER" government. They don't even want those things in the GOP!

And to make matters worse for the GOP, the question was phrased in a way that regulating GHG emissions would reduce "global warming" which the Republican Party suggests is a hoax! Here is the question:

Q: do you think the federal government should or should not regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

Stunning. What's going on here? Have the GOP lost control of the GHG/climate change/energy argument? Sure as heck looks that way.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | June 10, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

the netroots and labor won the message war and almost beat a sitting incumbent in an off year election. 3000 votes is not much of a margin for lincoln, who had whitehouse and DNC support. Getting within striking distance is not as good as winning, but it is still a big positive for progressives.

Posted by: srw3 | June 10, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Greg, I agree with your assessment completely. If they wanted to just send a message to Blanche re union support, they could have just withheld money and not supported anyone in the race. We all thought Halter had a shot and would also be a better candidate in the general. Whether that would have been the case we'll never know.

And Ethan, those numbers are amazing and a welcome sight. What remains to be seen is whether Congress will accomplish anything. I'm beginning to wonder if they're really capable of doing the people's business.

Posted by: lmsinca | June 10, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Agree with your assessment here Greg, and you too SRW.

They had to bring in Clinton and the DNC to save her, and Halter was the best bet in the general. Ezra makes a valid point but with the wrong reasoning. It's BOTH: it sent a message and brought forward a viable candidate. The idea that labor is a monolithic, conspiratorial political machine is only articulated by people who don't know how this stuff works at a fundamental level. Union organizing and political work is, by and large, much more complex and subtle than it was in its heyday. It has to be. The right doesn't get this AT ALL.

Posted by: BGinCHI | June 10, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Since President Obama said that the BP CEO should be fired:

Here is someone who also should be fired, and President Obama can actually do it.

Rahm Emanuel.

On top of having tried to persuade President Obama to abandon the Health Care Reform effort,

Now we hear that Rahm actually persuaded President Obama to back off on a push for Climate Legislation.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 10, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

@Greg: I'm not sure how you can see into the minds of "labor" to make such statements of fact?

My real question: Why didn't the admin share the view of progressives, Plum Line readers, and labor alike that Halter was the better candidate? I'm not buying the notion that this "pragmatic" admin always supports incumbents.

Posted by: sbj3 | June 10, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse


You need to start devoting threads to this Nut Job, like you did to Sue The Chicken Hawker.

Sharron Obtuse Angle is the gift that keeps on giving.

She is against fluoridation. Does not like it being added to drinking water, and says she does not trust it.

From TPM.

"The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in April 1999 that the state assembly, of which Angle was a member, voted 26-16 for a bill that required fluoridation in two counties including the cities of Reno and Las Vegas. Angle was a strong opponent of the measure. The paper reported (via Nexis):

Before the vote, Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, R-Reno, sought to postpone the vote so she could add an amendment to block fluoridation in Washoe County. The Washoe County Commission in 1992 rejected fluoridation, and Angle said the Legislature should not approve fluoridation in her county without a vote of its people.

While another member of the Assembly suggested opponents of the measure were worried about the financial implications of fluoridation, the Review-Journal reported: "Angle said she simply does not like fluoride." Angle added she believed most fluoride used in water supplies could contain "lead, arsenic, [or] mercury.""

Posted by: Liam-still | June 10, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Lincoln squeaked out a win in the runoff, but she is in a very weak position going into the general election. If that's a victory for the party establishment, I don't see how.

Posted by: Beeliever | June 10, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I agree with srw and bg.

Though, bg, I think that the Right DOES get it, they just don't LIKE it.

And lmsinca, we'll see... you may be right, though I hope not! I think they need to hear from us now that the numbers are so strongly in our favor. The polls show it, now we need to express it to our representatives/senators directly and in no uncertain terms. If we all took 5 minutes to contact our Reps they'd get the message, and be compelled to act. Or, at least, they would be far more compelled than if we just sat on our hands.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | June 10, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

@sbj3: I'm not buying the notion that this "pragmatic" admin always supports incumbents.

Name a democratic incumbent the admin didn't support in the primaries. I can't think of one. That seems to validate this notion.

BTW: incumbents won overwhelmingly in the primaries despite all the hype about the perils of incumbency. See yesterdays Maddow for more on this meme.

Posted by: srw3 | June 10, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Lots of smart analysis on this post, and I tend to agree, mostly.

But, the one thing that stood out for me about how much the unions were willing to put behind Halter is the fact that he does not support their #1 issue - EFCA. It's one thing to put $10m into a race with a viable challenger to the incumbent, when the challenger is definitely better on your core issues. I'm not so sure that Halter really was, or would have been much different than Blanche at the end of the day. And I think that is where the WH is coming from, although I gotta say, their criticism was very very poor.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 10, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

@srw3: "See yesterdays Maddow."

That'll be the day! (I DO admire her as a mixologist.)

Do you think that this admin would support the incumbent even if they felt the challenger had a better chance in the general? Coz I sure don't!

Posted by: sbj3 | June 10, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

President Obama said that he intended to try and be a transformational president.

In order to be one of those rare leaders, one has to be willing to take big chances, in order to make big changes.

Rahm is calling the shots, and in Rahm's world, staying in office for two terms, is the paramount goal, and drives to enact major transformational legislation are just too risky.

Rahm Emanuel has persuaded President Obama to not take any chances, and only go for easy victories.

That is why President Obama is behaving in such a conventional manner. He has allowed Rahm Emanuel to stifle his Transformational Intentions.

Read it and weep.

"To thine own self be true, and you can not be false to any man."

Unfortunately, President Obama has not adhered to his own core beliefs, and has allowed Rahm to tailor the agenda.

It is not working, so President Obama needs to get rid of Rahm, and get back to setting his own course.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 10, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Obama said he wanted a dissension of opinions in his advisers. I have no problem with Rahm's opinions, I only care whether Rahm fights for the president's agenda after the decision is made. Whatever his advice was previously, Rahm reportedly worked very hard for his president on passing health care.

Cheney blocked all dissension in the Bush administration. Dissension is healthy.

Posted by: Beeliever | June 10, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse


Pushed hard to try and persuade President Obama to give up on health care reform. As soon as the going got tough, Rahm wanted to abandon the entire effort.

Where was Rahm, all during the previous summer, when the Right Wingers were out their scaring the hell out of people with their lies about what the reform would do to them.

Rahm is Chief of Staff, and he did not push President Obama to fight back, when that was going on. Therefore the proposed reform became more and more unpopular, and after it did, Rahm wanted to give up.

He has to go.

Posted by: Liam-still | June 10, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Rahm wanted Barry to GIVE UP health care Beeliever, why do you keep asserting how integral Rahm was to Health Insurance Legislation?

Posted by: Papagnello | June 10, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Rahm only cares about Points on a Board.

Posted by: Papagnello | June 10, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Totally agree Beeliever.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | June 10, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Rahm is not the president, Obama is the president and makes his own decisions.

From the PBS article:
"Emanuel put aside his misgivings and mounted an effective whip operation."

Posted by: Beeliever | June 10, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Also in the Rolling Stones article they say Obama made a deal with the devil (agreeding to off shore drilling) to get a climate bill passed.

That seems counter to PBS's argument that Obama is passive about the climate bill.

Posted by: Beeliever | June 10, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I wonder what the unions would have done if Halter had won. How much money and time would they have been willing to put forth to get him over the line in the general election? Would they have gone all-in? (I kinda doubt it.)

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 10, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse


Whate is your obsession with the name Barry? Give it a rest.

His name is Barack or Obama or Mr. President.

Posted by: Beeliever | June 10, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

The end of the Rolling Stone article started waning off into hit piece poetic sensationalism. The fact remains: Salazar was Barry's point man at MMS. Salazar did nothing even faintly regulatory with regard to a company with known record of neglect. No Dem can criticize Bush's lack of readiness leading up to 9/11 without also criticizing Barry's lack of readiness and smoochy smoochy tactics with known wreckers.

Posted by: Papagnello | June 10, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Why? Because he is a conniver.

Posted by: Papagnello | June 10, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse


John Boehner is advocating (for the US Chamber of Commerce) a taxpayer bailout of BP. No kidding.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 10, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse


And if Rahm says they have the votes, then fair enough, he'll fold.

Posted by: Papagnello | June 10, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

If organized labor ever seriously believed that a Democrat could win an open-seat senate race in Arkansas, in 2010, by running to the left of Blanche Lincoln, then they're even dumber than they ended up looking. If they were just were out to flex their muscle and send some kind of message then they pretty much blew that too, because Lincoln very likely came out of the primary race better positioned for the general election than she was going in and she did it by charging headlong into their guns and never conceding an inch of ground.

Halter didn't come out badly either. Win or lose, he succeeded in raising his own profile considerably on the unions' dime. The unions however, dropped millions of dollars of their members' hard-earned dues in the race and ended up with pretty much bupkis to show for it. If I was an SEIU member I'd be a little unhappy about that right about now.

Posted by: CalD | June 10, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Instead of Union or Labor the Democrats need to learn a new word, "Organized American Workers"... They don't side with unions, they stand with the American worker...

Posted by: soapm | June 10, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

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