5/6/08

Andy Stern has a crush on Obama

In the final days before the Indiana primary, Senator Barack Obama is getting some help from his friends at the Service Employees International Union, the politically powerful union that is engaging in a major get-out-the-vote campaign on his behalf. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that the union, which has been working on Mr. Obama’s behalf throughout the Democratic primary, has spent $1.1 million in the last five days on television advertisements, phone banks and direct mail in Indiana – in addition to sending out union members knocking on the doors of Hoosier voters.

The Obama television spot, which made its debut last week, is called “New Building.” It focuses on money being spent to rebuild the infrastructure in Iraq, rather than in the United States, and emphasizes Mr. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war. It ends with the statement “Barack Obama, Putting America First.”

“The ad is part of an extensive campaign that S.E.I.U. members are waging to get out the vote for Obama,’’ the union said in a release on its Web site. “S.E.I.U. members are stepping up their efforts” on Mr. Obama’s behalf.

The union led a similar effort to aid Mr. Obama in Pennsylvania and other primary states. It is perhaps the best friend a candidate could have. Not only does the union represent 1.9 million workers throughout the country, it is one of the savviest and wealthiest unions as measured by political activism.

Since endorsing Mr. Obama last year, the S.E.I.U.’s political arm, the Committee on Political Education, has spent $8 million to promote his candidacy. This is more than any other single group has spent on behalf of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, in the primary.

The next largest expenditure by an outside group in this primary was the $2.3 million that the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees has spent on behalf of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In addition, Mrs. Clinton has been aided by the American Leadership Project, a 527 group that has spent around $1 million on her behalf to date - an effort that has been soundly criticized by the Obama campaign.

When it comes to the S.E.I.U., however, there is a lot more money waiting in the wings for Mr. Obama. The COPE political action committee has, with $26 million in cash on hand, the biggest war chest of any other PAC, union or not. Besides focusing on helping Mr. Obama, COPE has been dipping into that cash to attack Senator John McCain.

Last week, in a preview of campaign wars to come, the S.E.I.U. started to broadcast its first general election television advertisement. It is the kickoff of what the union says will be “an unprecedented campaign to build a new American health care system” and takes sharp aim at Mr. McCain. The spot, broadcast in Ohio and Washington D.C., features health care workers and says that Mr. McCain “won’t stop rising health care costs” and that he joined with President Bush to “oppose health care for children.”

In addition, the S.E.I.U. is sponsoring a bus tour “Road to Health Care” that will travel through battleground states between now and the two political conventions. The union said that bus tour will stop “in communities small and large to highlight real people who are struggling to afford health care.”

(thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com)

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