- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2000

NEW ORLEANS The AFL-CIO, energized by labor's impact on recent primaries, is investing massive amounts of money and manpower in the upcoming "Super Tuesday" elections to help Vice President Al Gore put away rival Bill Bradley.

Labor leaders also have their eye on putting the Democrats back in control of Congress.

"We see this as a watershed year, when control of the White House, the House and crucial gubernatorial and state legislative races will be decided," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of major unions.

Labor leaders, meeting here this week to plot political strategy, yesterday said union voter turnout played a substantial part in Mr. Gore's primary wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Without labor's grass-roots mobilizing in New Hampshire, Mr. Gore might have lost to Mr. Bradley by a slim margin, according to polling data from Voter News Service.

Union voters made up 33 percent of the vote in the Iowa Democratic caucuses and 24 percent in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, VNS found.

Mr. Sweeney said that the AFL-CIO this year is conducting "the broadest and most intensive program ever" to help like-minded candidates win elective office. The federation is spending about $40 million on the presidential race, about 71 congressional races and local ballot initiatives.

Those funds, coupled with millions of dollars that will be spent by individual unions, is intended to offset a huge money advantage that business groups hold over their labor rivals, Mr. Sweeney said.

"I do know that no matter how much money we spend, we will be outspent by business groups by at least 11 to 1, as we have every year," he said, citing a report from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington think tank.

Labor leaders said mobilizing union members will be the key to success in the elections.

The AFL-CIO, under the leadership of Mr. Sweeney for four years, has made grass-roots political action a top priority and has played a significant role in narrowing the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives.

"We would not be where we are today in the House, within an arm's length of getting a majority, were it not for organized labor," said Rep. David E. Bonior, a Michigan Democrat who was in New Orleans to discuss the looming elections with labor leaders.

Federation officials said they think they have a better-than-even chance of wresting control of the House from the Republicans by helping the Democrats win at least six seats.

Currently, the GOP holds 222 seats in the House, compared with 211 for the Democrats. There are also two independents in the House, one who leans Democratic, and one who leans Republican. In the Senate, the GOP holds 55 seats to the Democrats' 45.

Labor leaders yesterday insisted that their goal is not simply to give Congress back to the Democrats, who lost control of the House in 1994. Instead, they want to help elect candidates who share their positions on working-family issues like preserving Social Security, improving education and raising the minimum wage.

"We would much rather see the Democrats in control of Congress, but that is not our overriding goal," said AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal.

He said the federation is focusing its resources on 71 congressional seats in approximately 22 states, in districts where they see a chance of winning a seat.

While the federation has endorsed a few centrist Republicans in the past, this time only one candidate in those 71 districts is a Republican: Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio.

The AFL-CIO's immediate goal, however, is to help Mr. Gore win big in the March 7 Super Tuesday primaries, when voters from 11 states will cast ballots.

Labor political organizers from several states voting that day, such as California and Ohio, said they are mobilizing the union rank and file, sending out thousands of brochures and calling many more union members at home to promote Mr. Gore. The strategy is to help Mr. Gore build an insurmountable lead over Mr. Bradley, a former New Jersey senator.

Mr. Gore is scheduled to meet tomorrow with labor leaders who endorsed his candidacy in the fall.

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