Clintons owe McElroy, McEntee big time

The surprise victory of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary earlier this week has been attributed to a wide variety of factors, including the powerful emotional appeal of a widely televised voice-cracking, eye-welling moment the normally stoic New York senator had the day before the primary.

Yet in a race decided by less than 8,000 votes, Clinton’s victory was surely due in large part to the efforts of two prominent labor unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and EMILY’s List, an organization that lends political support to Democratic women who favor abortion rights.

EMILY’s List targeted 54,000 New Hampshire women, all of whom had voted frequently in past primaries or who had registered to vote since 2006, with five direct-mail pieces and telephone calls — made by New Hampshire women — centered on kitchen-table issues and Clinton’s experience.

“It was about reminding them of what was at stake in this election,” said Maren Hesla, who runs the organization’s independent expenditures program.

AFSCME pitched in with mailings lauding Clinton and attacking Obama, while the AFT funded a set of radio ads targeted at women over the age of 25.

Combined, the three groups dumped approximately $600,000 into New Hampshire.

Similarly, Obama is counting on support from the Culinary Workers and the Service Employees International unions to help him win the Nevada caucuses Jan. 19. No independent expenditures were made on Obama’s behalf in New Hampshire.

The EMILY’s List effort there, which was more limited and targeted than their Iowa campaign on behalf of Clinton, may not be replicated in other early-voting states because the looming “Super Tuesday” primaries will require a tremendous allocation of resources for candidates and the interest groups that support them.

“It is probably more likely that we are playing in the Feb. 5 states than the earlier states,” Hesla said. “We are hitting a point where this is not a state-but-state strategy but a delegates strategy ... It is a dramatically more complicated strategic set of calculations that have to be made.”

Because Democratic delegates to the party’s national convention later this year are allocated on a proportional basis — meaning that the delegates available within a state are awarded based on the percentage of the vote each candidate gets — picking which markets to expend dollars and energy in is a critical political exercise.

“It’s an incredible game of resource allocation,” Hesla said. “You really have to sit there and furrow your brow and say ‘Where can I win and where can I lose and how many delegates are available in this media market?’”

The ground game does not always go as expected, and dollars don’t always equal votes.

The three groups backing Clinton spent $2 million blanketing Iowa with mailings, billboards, and television and radio ads, not to mention an in-depth Internet campaign replete with Yahoo and Google Web ads that carried pro-Clinton messages aimed at women.

But the targeting was much different in Iowa than in New Hampshire, Hesla said. In Iowa, EMILY’s List tried to get new Democratic voters to the caucuses, ignoring women who had previously attended and independents. While Hesla is confident that the push brought out thousands of new women voters, it was no match for Obama’s campaign.

“Sen. Obama did an astonishing job of adding younger voters and independents to the process,” she said.

The Nevada branch of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) is working to help Obama replicate that feat in Nevada, though with an emphasis on its own members rather than non-union voters.

SEIU Nevada spokesperson Hilary Haycock said the organization believes it will be able to exceed the impact of AFSCME and AFT’s efforts for Clinton in Iowa, citing the political strength of unions in the state and the newness of the contest as reasons the organization will be able to boost Obama to victory.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nevada had a higher rate of unionized workers than Iowa in 2006 — 14.8 percent to 11.3 percent. The combined membership of the service and culinary unions in Nevada tops 77,000; turnout estimates for the caucuses range from 30,000 to 100,000.

“Our primary push is bodies to the caucus. We are good at talking to our members and we’re good at moving our members,” said Haycock.


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