Labor's Victory in Arkansas
by Nathan Empsall, Wed Jun 09, 2010 at 03:56:22 PM EDT
Last night was a pretty good night for organized labor. Their candidate (in the AR-SEN primary) didn’t win, but they turned a blowout into a toss-up and pushed a moderate Senator to the left on at least one major issue. Taking on Democratic incumbents like this is largely unchartered territory for labor, and I’m not naive enough to believe that if you only almost win on a first run, then you’re finished with a stake through your heart. Unfortunately, much of the media is that naïve.
Politico’s Martin Kady says that Senator Lincoln “drove a stake through organized labor last night with her surprise victory over surging Lt. Gov. Bill Halter… Lincoln's victory means that at least for the time being, other moderates in the Senate can breathe easy and keep playing the middle on big ticket legislative items.” A CBS headline asks, "Did labor waste $10 million in Arkansas?" Even First Read says, “Simply put, Lincoln's narrow victory was a crushing blow to organized labor and the internet left, which had rallied around Halter.”
Excuse me, but Lincoln went from 18 points up to 4 points up, from a lock to a dead heat. What if she had started 14 points up? What if the next moderate starts just 10 points up? Organized labor showed they can make up those differences. Since when does that count as “breathing easy?” I’d call that a new and huge headache for Blue Dogs.
Furthermore, labor started at a severe disadvantage – at just 4.2%, Arkansas has the second-lowest union membership in the country. All of the moderates Politico says can breathe easy are in states with higher union membership than that. Ben Nelson’s Nebraska – 9.2%. Bill Nelson’s Florida – 5.8%. What if labor chose to get involved in primaries in states like Alaska, with 22.3% membership, or Washington, at 20.2%?
A blow-out race in a state unfriendly to unions, and yet labor’s money came very, very close to toppling Lincoln. She was running scared, so stepped it up on derivatives and Wall Street reform – a pretty sweet worst-case scenario for progressives.
Here’s some spot-on analysis from Greg Sargent:
This is precisely the point that eludes those who are looking at this through a simlistic "who won, who lost" prism. For labor, not doing anything was tantamount to losing. Blanche Lincoln is terrible on issues important to labor. As long as she remains in the Senate, unions lose.
Yes, labor dumped $10 million on the effort. But they, you know, almost won. If anything, the closeness of the contest -- recall that Halter forced Lincoln into a runoff three weeks ago -- underscored that labor was right to undertake this effort. And putting aside that $10 million, unions are in some ways in a better position than they were before: It's a simple fact that other Dems will think longer and harder before crossing labor on issues that are dealbreakers for them.
If labor had never entered this race at all, they'd still be in a losing position with Lincoln in the Senate. This is an unbearably simple and obvious point, but the only way for labor to reverse this situation was to try to replace her with someone better on their issues. They couldn't do this, of course, without running the risk of losing. Doing nothing would have amounted to a loss, anyway -- with no chance of ever winning. They were absolutely right to give it a shot. The alternative was much worse.