Can gov't-unions stop Obama?

As the Democratic presidential contest moves to the distressed industrial Midwest, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have ratcheted up their antitrade, anticorporate rhetoric.

The candidates have made broad attacks on corporate wealth and tax cuts they say tilt toward the rich, along with more specific attacks against health insurers and oil companies, among other industries. On Friday, Mrs. Clinton began airing a TV spot in Wisconsin in which she says, "The oil companies, the drug companies, have had seven years of a president who stands up for them.... It's time we had a president who stands up for all of you."

Both candidates increasingly sound like former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as they pursue his endorsement and the voters -- particularly union members -- who were drawn to the populist candidate before he dropped out last month. Illinois Sen. Obama got a boost toward that goal Friday with the backing of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most politically powerful labor organizations.

SEIU long was too divided to make a national endorsement, but Mr. Edwards's withdrawal and Mr. Obama's momentum made a choice easier. Now the union has organizers on the ground working for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin, which holds the next primary Tuesday. "It has now become clear the members of our union and the leaders of our union think that it is time to become part of an effort to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States," said Andy Stern, the union's president, during a phone conference with reporters.

One factor in the endorsement is the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and blamed by many unions for sending jobs to Mexico. Sen. Obama has increasingly hit Mrs. Clinton on Nafta.

"People react very strongly against Nafta," said Anna Burger, head of SEIU's political program, in an interview. "We've seen job loss in this country as a result of Nafta. She's speaking out against Nafta now, but she has ties to it. That's been a high hurdle for her to overcome."

Wisconsin offers a test for the antitrade rhetoric, as a state where the number of well-paid manufacturing jobs has steadily declined over the past decade. Two recent polls have given Mr. Obama an edge there, and he is widely expected to carry the state.

Battered Ohio, which votes March 4, offers an even bigger test. It currently stands as the No. 1 state for home foreclosures in progress, with 3.7% of homes with outstanding mortgages affected, according a recent report by National City Corp. in Cleveland. The state is a must-win contest for Mrs. Clinton, who has lost a string of contests to Mr. Obama since Feb. 5. She has a large lead in recent Ohio polls.
[Barack Obama]

Besides wooing voters, both candidates are trying to win favor from Democratic leaders in these states who serve as superdelegates. Superdelegates -- members of Congress and other prominent party figures -- aren't bound by the results of the primaries or caucuses in their states. They could help decide who wins the nomination.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), one undecided superdelegate, won election in 2006 with a populist message and said he is pleased that the presidential candidates are now following suit. "They were both a bit slow to get there, but they both have genuine beliefs about the middle class and working families and they're going exactly in the right direction," he said.

Business groups are dismissive of the Democratic attacks. "They should be talking about ways to grow the economy such as deregulation and lessening burdens on employers, rather than criticizing them with simplistic politically driven rhetoric," said Randel Johnson, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Obama's growing backing from labor leaders may help him more with the working-class voters being wooed by those appeals. Beyond Wisconsin, SEIU's endorsement could help him in Texas, which also has a primary on March 4. The union organized 5,300 janitors in Houston in the past few years and is expected to call on its strong staff there to mobilize voters.

SEIU's backing came on the heels of an Obama endorsement Thursday by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has 1.3 million members. Overall, though, the labor movement remains divided between the two candidates. Mrs. Clinton has far deeper support from unions representing government workers, teachers and machinists, among others.

Substantively, the two Democrats agree on most economic issues. Even as they debate whether Mrs. Clinton supported Nafta too strongly in the past, for instance, both promise to try and renegotiate the agreement to get better terms.

Their rhetoric, too, is remarkably similar.

In Cincinnati Friday, Mrs. Clinton described herself as the "candidate of, from and for the middle class of America" to roundtable of voters in Cincinnati.

"We're going to end every single tax break that still exists in the federal tax code that gives one penny of your money to anybody who exports a job. Those days are done," she said. "It is wrong that an investment money manager in Wall Street making $50 million a year gets a lower tax rate than a teacher, a nurse, a truck driver, and autoworker making $50,000 a year."

She has taken a number of opportunities over the last week to denounce corporations. On Thursday, she responded to reports of possible airline mergers. "We will have to take a hard look at the potential effects on workers and consumers," she said in a statement. "It is also vitally important that any proposed merger preserve the jobs and worker protections on which thousands of families rely." A spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines Inc., which people close to the matter say is in merger talks, said any merger decision would be made with the long-term interests of employees and customers in mind.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton jumped on news that Blue Cross of California was asking doctors to provide personal medical information about their patients that could make them ineligible for insurance (a practice the company has since reversed). "This is only the most recent example of how insurance companies spend tens of billions of dollars a year figuring out how to avoid covering people with health insurance," Mrs. Clinton said in a statement.

Mr. Obama's language has the same ring. On Tuesday night, as votes were being counted in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Mr. Obama (who won all three of those contests) was in Madison, Wis., denouncing Nafta for shipping jobs overseas and, he said, forcing "parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart."

"That's why we need a president who will listen to Main Street, not just Wall Street, a president who will stand with workers not just when it's easy, but when it's hard," he said.

The next day, he was at a General Motors assembly plant in Janesville, Wis., to deliver an economic address in which he again denounced free-trade agreements. "Decades of trade deals like Nafta and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear," he said.

He has repeatedly accused Mrs. Clinton of supporting Nafta in the years after her husband signed it into law. Mr. Obama has sent a flier into Ohio homes that shows a locked gate, presumably to a factory, with a large "Closed" sign hanging. It says, "Hillary Clinton believed NAFTA was 'a boon' to our economy. See inside..."

It seems that Mrs. Clinton never used those exact words, and Mrs. Clinton has accused Mr. Obama of peddling "all sorts of false claims."


No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails