As the McCain campaign expands its merry band of American worker characters--Joe the Plumber now has Tito the Builder, Ken the Carpenter, and many others lined up next to him--it's worth discussing how millions of other workers (with last names) in labor unions view the candidates less than two weeks before Election Day.
The McCain campaign would have voters think that Joe the Plumber has injected the GOP ticket with some much-needed momentum. At a rally in Findlay, Ohio, Sarah Palin heralded Joe (aka Sam Wurzelbacher) for turning the campaign around. "You've really got to hand it to old Joe the Plumber up the road in Toledo," a local paper reported the veep contender telling the crowd. "He got our opponent to state his intentions in plain language. Senator Obama says now he wants to spread the wealth."
But Bloomberg today reported that, after struggling to recruit union votes during the primaries, Obama is shoring up labor support, thanks largely to the financial crisis coming at the tail end of months the candidate spent courting unions. According to the AFL-CIO, union members lost roughly $1 trillion from their pensions because of the recent financial collapse, and 80 percent now say the economy is the most important issue in the election. "In good times, Obama would have a more difficult time," said the SEIU's Andy Stern, because many union voters are socially conservative. "But at the moment he has won the war on who is on your side."
In fact, the most recent polls indicate that Joe and Co. haven't affected the candidates' standings among union members. As well as remaining ahead nationally and in several battleground states, Obama seems to be winning the labor vote. Just three weeks ago, an AFL-CIO rep said "15 to 20 percent" of the organization's voters in battleground states were "persuadable." But today, Richard Trumka told Bloomberg that the organization's internal polls now show "undecided voters are breaking very quickly in Obama's favor." And the AFL-CIO is spending a record $250 million to mobilize voters.
(Fun Fact: Despite Good Ol' Joe's stint as a McCain poster boy, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada boasts of being the first international union to endorse Obama. The SEIU and AFL-CIO, of course, later followed suit.)
It seems, then, that the "Name the Profession" strategy isn't doing much to help the GOP when it comes to the labor vote. Yes, it's energizing the staunchly conservative base--and turning out fame-seeking Republicans at rallies who want to be stump speech regulars. But unions seem confident that their voters, with the economy on their minds, are going to swing to Obama on November 4.