Video: Union defections worry Democrats

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/25/2005 7:34:31 PM ET 2005-07-25T23:34:31

During the 2004 campaign season, more than 225,000 volunteers from organized labor attended countless political rallies. They also knocked on more than 6 million doors and made more than 100 million phone calls — nearly all of it on behalf of Democrats.

And it's not just people, it's money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, unions gave $53.6 million to Democrats in last year's election cycle and only $7.7 million to Republicans.

Organized labor even plays a role in the red state/blue state divide.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 15 states with the highest percentage of union workers (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin) 13 voted for Democrat John Kerry (all but Alaska and Ohio). And the 15 states with the lowest percentage of union workers (Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia) — all went for President Bush.

That close relationship between the Democratic Party and labor unions has many Democrats deeply worried about defections from the AFL-CIO.

Some strategists say potential Democratic presidential candidates like former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who addressed the AFL-CIO convention Monday, could be at a severe disadvantage in 2008.

"If the election were held tomorrow," says Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, "and we had the kind of bitterness that's going on right now between the various factions of the AFL-CIO, it would be a disaster."

The labor rift could particularly hurt Democrats get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day, but not all Democrats agree the split is bad news.

"I'm not a fool," insists Democratic strategist Victor Kamber. "I understand a split is not as good as being united. But the bottom line is, I think the Democrats will not suffer if Democrats work for labor support."

Thomas Mann, of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, goes even further. He says a labor shake-up is just what the Democrats need.

"I think it is to their long-run advantage to have the unions fight this out and try to begin to make some necessary changes," he says.

Changes that Mann says could lead to a re-invigorated labor movement and eventually a re-invigorated Democratic Party.

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