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AFL-CIO Goes After McCain

As the Democratic presidential race continues on with no end in sight, many establishment Democrats are privately fretting that the extended battle will hamstring their chances of winning back the White House in November.

Enter the AFL-CIO who today launched a widespread voter education program aimed at defining Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) called "McCain Revealed".

"Our economy is in crisis after years of failed Bush Administration policies that Senator McCain supports and has adopted as his own," said AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman. "Senator McCain's record shows he's in lockstep with President Bush on economic issues."

The program will reach 13 million voters in 23 states, according to a release that accompanied a conference call made to announce the plan. The union's campaign will focus on Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota -- five of the states considered to be likely battlegrounds in the fall election.

The goal of the effort is to "bracket" (in political terms) the Republican nominee as he travels the country, ensuring that the coverage McCain receives carries at least of mention about those unhappy about his record on economic issues. Bracketing is a tried and true tactic in political campaigns -- certainly at the presidential level -- and the AFL-CIO should have the bodies in the states they are targeting to pull it off.

The AFL-CIO is also planning a significant member-to-member effort in their targeted states, handing out 100,000 leaflets to members detailing McCain's record on economic policy. The labor group will also hold a "national canvass" on May 17 with the goal of knocking on 400,000 union members' doors to educate them about McCain and his voting record.

Wasting no time, the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee responded to the AFL-CIO effort.

"The AFL-CIO's campaign against John McCain isn't about working families, it's about partisan politics," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

RNC spokesman Alex Conant called on Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) to stop the AFL-CIO effort, adding: "Voters looking for something new will find it in John McCain's campaign to help working families -- not the AFL-CIO's partisan attacks."

The AFL-CIO, long one of the major players in outside spending on political campaigns, drew wide praise , however, from the Democratic establishment for putting significant money behind an effort to define McCain.

"The AFL-CIO effort is great -- exactly what the doctor ordered," said Steve Rosenthal, former political director of the AFL-CIO and head of America Coming Together. "John McCain has used his carefully crafted image as a straight-talking, maverick to mask a 26 year record that shows a complete and utter disregard -- actually bordering on a disdain -- for working Americans."

"McCain Revealed" is only the leading edge of a broader attempt by Democratic groups to ensure the eventual Democratic nominee is positioned to win in the fall. With Clinton and Obama focused on one another for the foreseeable future, groups like the AFL-CIO, and others are critically important.

McCain, free from the burden of fighting off a primary challenge, will spend the next few months burnishing his moderate credentials and casting himself as a consensus candidate. That case will be made easier by voters' preconceived notions about McCain -- that he is a moderate, a maverick, etc. While those notions nearly led to his defeat in the primary race, they will work to his advantage in the fall.

The race is on to define McCain. Who wins will go along way to determining the Arizona Senator's chances at the White House this fall.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 12, 2008; 3:16 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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