Despite Talk Of Decline, Unions Remain Key Players Nearly one in four voters lives in a union household. They are more likely to vote and polls show they still solidly favor Democrats by a solid margin. The vast majority of their resources will go toward getting members and other likely Democratic voters to the polls.

Despite Talk Of Decline, Unions Remain Key Players

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Maybe on some level, you should be flattered. Political candidates and independent groups are spending billions of dollars just to influence your vote.

INSKEEP: In this final week of the campaign, we've been tracking the money, and yesterday, we heard of independent groups pouring in cash to support Republicans.

LOUISE KELLY: This morning, we'll report on one traditional ally of Democrats. NPR's Don Gonyea reports on the role of labor unions.

DON GONYEA: For all of the talk of the decline of U.S. labor, unions remain an important player in elections.

Nearly one in four voters lives in a union household. They are more likely to vote, and polls show they still favor Democrats by a solid margin. So you can see why labor leaders are working so hard as next Tuesday nears.

Mr. RICHARD TRUMKA (President, AFL-CIO) So it's time, brothers and sisters, it's time to stand together. It's time to march together. It's time to knock on doors together. It's time to get out the vote together. It's time to win with Harry Reid, our champion, Harry...

GONYEA: That's AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka two nights ago in Reno, Nevada, helping out Senator Reid. But this event also helps demonstrate how unions spend their campaign dollars. It's more person-to-person than over the air.

Darian Warren follows labor and politics at Columbia University.

DARIAN WARREN: The vast majority of their resources will go towards the ground game, towards getting their members and other likely Democratic voters to the polls. The opposite is true of groups that lean right. Most of their money - for instance, the Chamber of Commerce will be spending their resources on ads primarily, not so much on the ground game.

GONYEA: And in these final days before the election, as part of a late push, the union ground game has kicked into high gear.

KAREN ACKERMAN: We anticipate 90,000 volunteers working from 1,200 staging locations.

GONYEA: Karen Ackerman is the political director of the AFL-CIO. She says individual unions have taken to the airwaves, but that personal contact works better with their members.

ACKERMAN: We know we're going to make over five million phone calls. We'll be walking and knocking on over four million doors, and we'll have almost two million flyers out at worksites. Overall, we're touching around 17 million union voters.

GONYEA: Democrats have complained that outside groups are giving Republicans a huge money advantage this year. That's likely to be true when it's all added up after next week. But GOP strategist Karl Rove, who is associated with a nonparty group called American Crossroads, says Democrats have no grounds for complaint. This is from CBS' "Face the Nation."


KARL ROVE: Well, this has been going on for a long while. In fact, you left out a big player in this. Four unions alone will, according to their own announcements, spend $222 million in money on elections this year.

Unidentified Man: But we know who they...

GONYEA: The Wall Street Journal recently compiled a list of the top outside spenders of this election cycle. Number one is the government employees union, AFSCME, at $87 million. Next are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at $75 million, and American Crossroads at 65.

But Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry says that chart doesn't take into account where the money comes from. She says unions get it from members, while corporate-backed outside groups are not disclosing where their money comes from. She spoke on C-SPAN.

MARY KAY HENRY: The union does actually disclose every contribution our members make voluntarily to our political fund. There is access to that record, and there is absolutely no money that our union receives from outside of our membership.

GONYEA: This year, labor has hit or exceeded all of its dollar goals for the campaign, but Darian Warren says it's still an uphill fight.

WARREN: No, that's not enough. You know, you can hit all your marks, but it's not a total predictor of what the outcomes might be.

GONYEA: He says just look back to 2006, when Republicans hit all of their cash and turnout goals and lost both the House and the Senate to the Democrats.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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