Five key Senate Democrats on card-check

Sen. Al Franken’s victory in Minnesota means Democrats now hold 60 seats in the Senate, and increases pressure on centrists in the party to support card-check legislation sought by organized labor.

Democrats have enough votes to pass card-check, and Franken’s vote means Democrats theoretically have the majority to quash a filibuster, which requires 60 votes.

But on issues as controversial as card-check, the basis of a huge lobbying battle between business and labor, the party can’t count on all 60 votes.

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has been working with several colleagues to craft a compromise that would attract enough votes to win the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate on card-check, formally known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

But business groups show no signs of supporting any compromise, which heaps pressure on centrist Democrats who want to support their party but don’t like the card-check bill. Interest groups on both sides of the issue are launching campaigns targeting centrists.

Here’s a look at five Senate Democrats whose votes will be critical on the issue.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

Nelson is the target of television ads that began running Thursday in his home state. The million dollar campaign, financed by the Employee Freedom Action Committee, an affiliate of the Center for Union Facts that opposes EFCA, is trying to convince the former Nebraska governor not to support the bill.

Nelson is not a fan of card check and has disparaged it in the press, but his aides have noted that Nelson often votes with his party on procedural motions because he abhors any kind of obstruction in the Senate.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)

Lincoln in early April said she would vote against the bill unless it is changed, and expressed interest in alternatives that could attract both business and labor support.

She’s up for reelection in 2010 in a red state that is home to Wal-Mart, a powerful political force in Arkansas and a staunch card-check opponent.

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Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.)


Specter is never far from the epicenter of the EFCA battle. He announced he would vote against the bill earlier this year, then abruptly switched parties when it became apparent he could lose a Republican primary.

Specter, who voted for cloture on card check in 2007, has earned union endorsements in the past for his support of labor initiatives, and now needs labor’s support in a Democratic primary against Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.).

Specter has been working on a compromise bill, and has floated alternative proposals to Pennsylvania business groups.

Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.)

Bennett has not offered a position on card check. He’s up for reelection in 2010 and has only been in the Senate for a few months. He was appointed to replace Ken Salazar, picked to be the Obama adminstration's Interior secretary. Bennet's vote on EFCA will represent a big chunk of his short record when voters head to the polls next year.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

The veteran Democrat has been cool to card-check. Yet, like Specter, Feinstein is using her seniority among her peers to find a compromise. Her work on EFCA, alongside her centrist credentials, may help find an alternative that could pass the Senate.

Other senators to watch include Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who has not been supportive of the bill, and both senators from Montana and Virgina. Both states have two Democrats, and none of the four are co-sponsoring the bill in this Congress. While Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was not elected until last year, the other three were co-sponsors in the last Congress. All have been lobbied hard by business groups.