Can Labor Win It for Harry Reid?

Note: This post was updated Wednesday morning.

The pugnacious, mustached AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka traveled to Reno Tuesday night to gin up some enthusiasm for the embattled Harry Reid, hoping that labor's ground troops can stave off Sharron Angle's challenge and keep the Senate majority leader in his seat.

For labor, the stakes in this race are high.

Nevada is "Ground Zero in the battle to put working men and women before the oil companies and the corporate lobbyists and Wall Street," Trumka told union members when he addressed them at the Washoe County Senior Center, according to prepared remarks, with Reid in attendance before Trumka headed to Las Vegas Wednesday morning to kick off union phone banks and canvasses.

Reid is Trumka's kind of Democrat, and their similarities and differences couldn't be more pronounced.

Reid's father was a union hardrock miner in Searchlight, where the future senator would follow him into the mines as a child; Trumka grew up in Pennsylvania's coal country, following his own father to work as a coal miner and eventually chairing a United Mine Workers local.

And both are tough: Reid boxed in his youth. The mob tried to kill him with a car bomb. Trumka, unlike the softspoken senator, has become known as an outspoken political leader, willing to attack his enemies loudly and fearlessly--like he did during a recent trip to Alaska, where he delivered a screed of a speech about Sarah Palin.

In his Senate career, Reid has prized the issues of traditional labor Democrats, pushing for the maintenance or expansion of basic social programs like Social Security and Medicare before ushering health care reform through the upper chamber last year.

Angle, coincidentally, is just the kind of small-government candidate labor is fighting hardest this election cycle. Paring down Social Security and Medicare? Both are policies Angle supports, and both are policies unions are fighting hard against.

"Sharron Angle doesn't know the first thing about how to get America back on track," Trumka planned to say Tuesday night. "She called jobless workers 'spoiled.' She apologized to BP after the oil spill! She dreams of dismantling Social Security. She doesn't understand unemployment, the housing crisis, or why America needs a minimum wage."

(Angle didn't actually apologize to BP--though she did say the government shouldn't be forcing BP to pay into an escrow fund--but no matter. The union members in attendance probably caught Trumka's drift.)

As a consequence of all this, labor sees Nevada as a critical race to keep up its agenda in the Senate.

"If we're going to keep our champion," Trumka said, "We've got to fight for him."

And labor's votes could make the difference.

In this extremely close race, with polls conflicted on who leads and, regardless, showing those slim leads within the margin of error, there are enough union members in Nevada to change the outcome next Wednesday, depending on whether they turn out--and whether they actually vote for the candidate their labor leaders support.

The AFL-CIO estimates over 150,000 union members, retirees, family members, and members of the affiliated non-union organization Working America in Nevada--all of which are contacted by the AFL's political program--including members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which are working with the AFL-CIO to urge members to vote for Reid.

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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