February 26, 2011


Wisconsin and the Fundamental Threat to the Democratic Party (Reid Wilson, February 23, 2011, National Journal)

The millions of dollars that Republican-friendly outside organizations are pouring into television advertising has a positive impact, but it’s not enough to overcome Democrats’ superior turnout operations. Once the polls open on Election Day, once the persuadable voters have been persuaded, Democrats in swing districts can build a large, sometimes insurmountable, lead.

To build that lead, Democrats depend on a key portion of their coalition: unions. Instead of spending their millions on television advertising, unions frequently focus on turnout operations. That’s why Republican-led initiatives to attack union funding erupting in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and in other states are smart moves for the GOP—and dangerous for Democrats.

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip some collective-bargaining rights from unions is the most organized attack on union rights in a generation. Not since President Reagan fired the nation’s air traffic controllers have unions faced a starker threat. And, thanks to Republican gains in state legislative contests—an often-overlooked and yet stunningly widespread victory in 2010—Walker’s crusade is likely to succeed, either this year or next. That could set off dominos where Republicans control both state legislatures and governors' mansions.

“The strategy for Democrats has been public union growth. If we’re able to put any restraint on public union growth, it will put a significant restraint on their political clout,” said Saul Anuzis, chairman of UnionRefund.org, a group that works to inhibit unions’ political spending.

“The debate has come to a head. We’re out of money. All these states are running into deficit situations, and this is the perfect time to address these issues.”

Consider how crucial unions are to the Democratic coalition. As Republican-allied groups like American Crossroads and the American Action Network poured millions into television advertising, the single-largest outside actor in the 2010 elections was the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

AFSCME spent $87.5 million on the 2010 elections, an amount the Wall Street Journal calculated as about 30 percent of all spending for Democrats by outside groups. The Service Employees International Union and the National Education Association combined to spend another $84 million for Democrats, more than even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent during the midterms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2011 6:25 AM
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