Labor helps key Senate Dems, but abandons most House Blue Dogs

Organized labor is holding its nose and spending money to protect key Democrats in the Senate, hoping to create a bulwark to hold back Republicans in the House.

But labor has abandoned 26 House Democrats who did not support the union agenda in the 111th Congress, leaving them to be pounded by corporate-funded third party groups.

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Two of the nation’s biggest labor unions, AFSCME and SEIU, have spent generously on independent expenditures to help Democratic House candidates. But Blue Dog Democrats and other Democratic centrists who did not support healthcare reform or the Employee Free Choice Act are facing a one-sided barrage of television attack ads.

A review of independent expenditures reported in the last two months show that labor unions have not spent money on television ads to defend vulnerable House Democratic centrists such as Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), John Salazar (Co.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Travis Childers (Miss.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Jim Marshall (Ga.), Gene Taylor (Miss.), Ike Skelton (Mo.) and John Adler (N.J.).

All are at risk of losing in a cycle where Democrats appear likely to lose control of the House.

Bright, Chandler, Childers, Davis, Marshall and Taylor are all members of the House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition.

All of them voted against healthcare reform legislation twice, and none of them cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act, which makes it easier for workers to organize into unions.

In contrast, unions have come to the aid of Senate Democratic candidates in West Virginia and Colorado despite the candidates’ opposition to card-check legislation.

Both races are toss-ups, and losses in West Virginia and Colorado could cause control of the upper chamber to shift to the GOP.

AFSCME has spent more than $1.2 million on advertising attacking Republican Ken Buck, who is threatening to unseat Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Labor is also helping West Virginia Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who is in a tight race with Republican John Raese.

Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and compiled by National Journal’s The Hotline show that at least 26 members of the Blue Dog Coalition in tough races have not received any significant help from labor unions in the form of independent expenditures.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and Republican-allied third-party groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on independent expenditures to defeat each of them.

American for Tax Reform spent more than $290,000 in September on a media buy against Chandler.

Americans for Tax Reform spent $476,000 in mid-October on media production and a media buy to defeat Davis.

American Future Fund, a nonprofit group with a “conservative and free-market viewpoint,” spent $436,000 in September on media production and a media buy targeting Marshall.

Labor unions have not made any significant independent expenditures in any of their districts to defend them, according to a review of independent expenditure reports filed with the FEC.

Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 10th district, has been targeted by more than $1.1 million in hostile independent expenditures from third-party groups.

The 60 Plus Association spent nearly $460,000 on ads against Carney in the month of September. Labor unions have not made any significant independent expenditures to help Carney, according to FEC reports.

But Carney hasn’t been the most loyal supporter of labor’s legislative agenda during the 111th Congress. While he voted for healthcare reform he was one of a small number of Democrats who did not co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act.

Labor unions have not made any significant independent expenditures in Carney’s district to defend him.

That’s not to say that labor unions are not spending to help Democrats keep the House.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees plans to spend a total of $87.5 million to help Democratic candidates, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Service Employees International Union will spend $44 million according to the same report.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 8th district, is a rare Blue Dog who has received substantial support from labor unions.

AFSCME bought spent more than $600,000 on radio ads to help Murphy while SEIU spent $325,000 on its own media buy in his district.

Murphy endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act and voted twice to pass sweeping healthcare reform legislation through the House.

A union official familiar with labor’s strategy on independent expenditures said the decision to support a candidate rests on multiple factors.

“A Democrat who voted against everything we cared about, we would not be working for but we’re helping some lawmakers who have less than perfect scores,” said the official. “We don’t have a strict litmus test.”

The labor official denied that any lawmakers lost support because of voting against healthcare reform.

AFSCME has also made independent expenditures to help Rep. Mark Schauer in Michigan’s 7th district, Rep. Dina Titus in Nevada’s 3rd, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper in Pennsylvania’s 3rd and Rep. Steve Kagen in the 8th district of Wisconsin.

SEIU has made significant independent expenditures to help Rep. Phil Hare in Illinois’ 17th district, Rep. Stephen Lynch in the 9th of Massachusetts, Rep. John Hall in New York’s 19th, Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio’s 13th, Rep. John Boccieri of Ohio’s 16th, Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia’s 5th, Schauer and Titus.

All of those lawmakers voted for final passage of healthcare reform. They all — except for Perriello — cosponsored the Employee Free Choice Act.

The AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s most politically powerful unions, is not making independent expenditures on television and radio ads, according to a spokeswoman.

The union has focusing its resources on educating members and turning them out to the polls on Election Day. Several AFL-CIO affiliates, however, have made independent expenditures.

Donald Fowler, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said labor unions have long had a poor relationship with conservative Democrats, including many from the South.

“It’s mostly due to labor not offering them any money because they didn’t vote for some key labor legislation and sometimes the lawmakers didn’t want labor money, because it was a negative in the district,” Fowler said. “I believe if both sides had sense, they would reach an accommodation.”

Fowler said centrist and conservative lawmakers can help labor’s agenda even if the don’t support high-priority bills.

Correction: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $69,000 on advertising supporting Childers on Oct. 7, and $98,000 in October on advertising supporting Bright. An earlier version of this story included incorrect information.