Unions angry with Democrats over lack of help in Wisconsin governor's recall

Top union officials are lashing out at Washington Democrats, claiming they haven't done enough to help them unseat Gov. Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin's recall election.

President Obama has been silent on the race since his campaign released a statement endorsing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) immediately after his primary victory two weeks ago. The Obama campaign is helping Barrett with get-out-the-vote operations, but the president has not publicly mentioned the race.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Democratic National Committee has been similarly tight-fisted. The DNC sent out a fundraising email for Barrett, and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) will be in Wisconsin for a fundraiser next week, but the national party has refused entreaties to give the state party money.

The election is on June 5, just 10 days away.

International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger acknowledged the DNC’s help on the ground but said a major cash investment would have been worth a lot more.

"I'm very disappointed that the DNC has not seen fit to make a dollar investment," Schaitberger said. "When you're facing $25 million or more in super-PAC funds, you need money. The campaign needed funds to get up on the air to fight back. ... I think that would have been a good investment going into November."

Schaitberger credited Obama for being “fairly clear in his position on Wisconsin and the recall election,” but expressed frustration that there hadn’t been more focus on what he views as a crucial test heading into the fall elections.

"I think this is a national campaign," Schaitberger said. "Wisconsin is another important test to establish the tone and mood of what is to come in November."

When asked about national Democrats' support in the recall election, another union official scoffed.

"Labor has always been there for the national Democratic Party. The national Democratic Party should be there for labor in this instance. They're not," he said.

The official said that what happened in the recall election would likely bleed over into the presidential election.

"I think they would want their voters energized and motivated for November. To me, it's just short-sighted," the official said.

Walker has led Barrett in most recent polls, although few show his lead to be larger than five points. That means turnout could be a big factor in the closing days of the race. Anti-Walker forces say a visible push by Obama, either through a visit from him or Vice President Biden, or ads and robo-calls targeting African-Americans and young voters could make a huge difference.

Barrett's path to unseating the governor always appeared to be a tough slog — Walker had $25 million in the bank by the time Barrett won the Democratic primary, and he only had one month to pivot from that to the June 5 general election. A number of Democrats had privately worried that in seeking the recall unions and activists were picking a fight they couldn’t win — one top Wisconsin Democrat told The Hill the recall was “fraught with peril” — and some were less than happy the unions had pushed on anyways.

Now, as it appears Walker has the edge, Obama’s campaign could be wary about too closely tying itself to a failed effort. That stands in contrast with Mitt Romney, who called Walker a “hero” during the Wisconsin GOP presidential primary and has recently attacked Obama for his ties to teachers’ unions.

The DNC pushed back strongly against the unions’ claims about a lack of support. And both Democrats and unions have been happy with the Democratic Governors' Association's efforts in the race. The DGA has poured $3 million into the recall effort.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The DNC is fully committed to helping Mayor Barrett win next month’s recall election in Wisconsin, which will be an important victory for working families across the Badger State,” said DNC spokeswoman Melanie Roussell. “We continue to work with the Wisconsin Democratic Party and the Barrett Campaign to determine how we can be a key partner in taking back the governor’s office for Wisconsin Democrats and giving middle-class families across the state a much-needed fresh start.”

Roussell pointed to the upcoming Wasserman Schultz fundraiser and the fundraising email as examples of how they’d helped. The DNC has also given the Wisconsin Democratic Party $800,000 since November.

Obama campaign officials echoed those sentiments.

“The President has made it very clear where he stands in this election,” an Obama campaign official told The Hill. “He offered his clear support for Mayor Barrett the night of his primary victory. Obama for America has been working hand-in-glove with the mayor’s campaign ever since then. We’re going to continue to work with the campaign to figure out how we can be most helpful in the closing days.” 

Barrett spokesman Phil Walzak thanked Obama for the help he has given, but said more was always welcome.

“We’d love to have the president in Wisconsin, he’s always welcome, but at the same time we don’t have expectations. We understand he has an election of his own and he’s still the sitting president and has other important commitments,” he said. “It would be unfair to look at it as them not being engaged ... we are appreciative of the support we’ve gotten and would welcome more if the president is able.”

A Democratic strategist working for anti-Walker forces warned that union members would be less enthusiastic about working for Obama if he doesn’t step up for them.

"It won't go unnoticed by labor the extent to which the White House ultimately decides to fight or not fight for working people the final critical days in Wisconsin,” he said. "The White House needs to move beyond being afraid of its own shadow. The Romney campaign has already been foaming at the mouth to pounce if Walker survives. If that isn't motivation enough for the White House to start doing everything it can to help defeat Scott Walker, it's hard to know what is.”

— This story was updated at 11:21 a.m.