Are Big Labor and White House at Odds?

Continuing fallout from the Blanche Lincoln race

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Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln's reelection campaign has put some distance between the White House and organized labor unions, one of the most important political players in Democratic politics. The White House backed Lincoln in her Democratic primary in Arkansas, whereas national labor groups spent millions of dollars backing Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who challenged Lincoln in the primary. What level of acrimony is there between these two powerful political institutions, and what will it mean?

  • White House Deaf to Labor's Message The New York Times announces, "They may not have won, but discontented Democrats sent an important message to the Obama administration on Tuesday by mounting an unexpectedly strong primary challenge to Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. For the White House to minimize the efforts of unions and others who helped support that challenge suggests a tone-deafness to the growing restlessness in the Democratic Party.
  • Reduced Power for Labor The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes, "Unions spent $10 million on ads, mail and voter turnout efforts in Arkansas with the express goal of beating Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Tuesday's runoff and, in so doing, sending a message to other moderate Democrats that straying too far from the union agenda would be met with swift consequences," but they lost. "Labor claimed that even in defeat its message had been sent. But in politics, wins and losses are the whole game. Near misses and moral victories don't count for much."
  • In-Fighting Could Help Democrats The Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Simon and Kris Maher write, "National Democrats were annoyed at the intramural fight, but they did see some benefits in how it turned out. Ms. Lincoln now may hold up the union opposition as a badge of honor in her general election campaign--useful in convincing centrist voters that she is an independent-minded candidate who doesn't toe the party line. ... Establishment Democrats also expressed hope that unions and the party's left wing would stop trying to remove centrist incumbents and focus on beating Republicans."
  • Would Labor Ditch Obama Admin? FireDogLake's David Dayen shakes his head. "I think labor's basically done with this partnership. They aren't above holding a meeting, but the rank and file simply will not let them defend the White House anymore. An independent labor movement can be a great asset to progressive politics, and I think that's the direction in which we're headed. The Administration can walk back or moonwalk or send a nice card on heavy stock or do whatever they can to woo labor again, but I think it's over."
  • 'Labor Peace?' The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports, "It fell to White House political director Patrick Gaspard to meet with senior labor leaders today, trying to quell anger at some blind quotes published in this space and elsewhere about White House frustration with labor's decision to spent $10 million to knock off Blanche Lincoln. Labor was happy to hear Gaspard acknowledge that it was able to make its own decisions about spending, and the White House was happy to point out instances where labor had publicly knocked Obama. Tempers did not flair and the mood was cooperative when the meeting ended."
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