- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

The Democrats’ political divisions could be worse than New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said they were when she called last month for a cease-fire among the party’s warring factions and a renewed focus on beating Republicans in the next election.

Her call for unity came at a time when a major sector of the party’s working-class base appeared to be splitting apart, a key Senate Democrat was criticizing his party’s credibility on national security and new polling data showed that a majority of the nation’s working class has turned against unions, one of the party’s most loyal allies.

These developments within the past two weeks have Democrats re-examining their future political strategies:

• Two of the country’s biggest and most influential labor organizations, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, have left the AFL-CIO, taking $20 million in dues money from the powerful labor federation, which is one of the Democrats’ chief donors. Their main complaint: The AFL-CIO spends too much money on election campaigns and not enough on union organizing.

• Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, former chairman of the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, which has entered into a strategic political partnership with Mrs. Clinton, said many Americans don’t think Democrats “have the backbone” to protect the nation.

“Many Americans wonder if we’re willing to use force to defend the country even under the most compelling circumstances,” Mr. Bayh told the Associated Press last week.

• In another setback for unions, who have long been a pivotal voter constituency for the Democrats, a national survey of nonunion workers by independent pollster John Zogby found that only one-third of workers want to unionize their workplace, while a 56 percent majority do not.

With union membership in the midst of a sharp downturn, “these survey results seem to indicate that, under present circumstances, no amount of organizing effort would be able to turn around the decline,” said David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, which funded the poll.

Democratic strategists acknowledge that their party is undergoing a sometimes divisive debate about the party’s direction after last year’s election losses, but view this as a natural process of recovery.

“I think it’s normal for a party to go through what the Democratic Party is going through after a loss. People are looking to see what we need to do differently that will put us back into the majority,” said Maria Cardona of the New Democrat Network.

Mrs. Cardona says it is “too early to tell what kind of effect [the AFL-CIO’s breakup] will have” on the party, but agreed with Mr. Bayh “that we need to formulate a message of confidence that we are willing to use force to secure this nation.”

Meantime, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean has announced that he has put or is in the process of putting dozens of paid party organizers in 25 states as part of his drive to rebuild the party’s grass-roots campaign apparatus.

“Nearly 90 [regional organizers] have been recruited so far, and more come on every day,” the DNC said in a memo to its members.

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