Internal numbers from largest union federation in the country paint a startling picture for Democrats this fall, with nearly 80 Democratic seats in play — in a year when the GOP would only need 39 net pickups to retake the House. The upshot for Democrats is that almost half of those seats are in districts with high union density, prompting the labor movement to invest in a ground game rivaling the one they mounted in 2008.
At a breakfast meeting with five reporters this morning, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka claimed that the labor movement could make the difference, at the margins, between a Republican return to power on Capitol Hill and the continuing reign of the Democratic party. The hope, in his words, is to create a “firewall” to keep the GOP from retaking the House. His argument is based on AFL’s generic congressional ballot, which you can view here.
No matter how you look at it, the numbers leave the GOP a clear path to victory in November. The AFL has identified 75 seats as “in play” and has expanded the number of districts they’re targeting to about 100. Even if Democrats pick up four GOP seats in the handful of districts with vulnerable Republicans, the GOP could still take the House by winning 59 percent of “in play” Democratic seats.
“We did expand the House focus,” said AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman. “We’re looking at not only our priority House districts… which were those with 40,000 or more union voters, but because of the narrowness of so many of these races, we constantly evaluate what races are in play and where we have significant interest and the ability to influence enough union members to make a difference.”
Trumka hinted that some of these contested seats came as a surprise to him, though was hesitant to name which ones.
“I’m really hesitant, because it draws a big bull’s eye on the candidates. We’re not interested in doing that right now. The instant I would do that there would be this inflood of about $10 million worth of mysterious money that would come flying into the race.”
Trumka and Ackerman agreed that about 25 to 30 percent of union workers are swing voters, a high number that represents both risk and opportunity, and has caused AFL and other union groups to inundate workers with direct mail, phone calls, and worksite leafleting.
“We intend to have more face-to-face, or union to union, person-to-person contacts this time than you did in the past,” Trumka said.
Trumka acknowledged that the overwhelming number of independent expenditure ads purchased by conservative groups have members spooked, and clamoring for a cavalry that’s probably not coming — at least not on television.
“Have there been any requests for money?” Trumka joked. “Oh, a few.”
“The more they get hit with outside independent expenditures, the more they look around for help, for their own stuff that they’re doing,” Trumka added. “The requests for money have been broadened, from people that you would normally think have safe seats, are normally the safe seats, they’ve been a little bit less safe acting. Which is probably smart.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.