Democratic Despair Increases Labor Clout

The despair that currently grips the Democratic Party is enhancing the clout of big labor in the party.

The AFL-CIO has joined the other big unions - AFSCME and SEIU - in making lavish promises about mobilization and spending this cycle. At the national AFL-CIO conclave Wednesday, union boss Richard Trumka pledged to spend $40 million across 26 states, including more than 70 House races - all fighting "corporate traitors."

With similar pledges from other unions and new rules regarding campaign spending, it's conceivable that big labor could spend more than $150 million - a staggering sum for a midterm election.

Every day, another prognosticator has more bad news for Democrats. Today, Larry Sabato predicts a 47-seat gain for Republicans in the House and says the Senate is "on the bubble." While Democrats continue to enjoy the cash cushion provided by easier fundraising in the majority, the party is in dire need of help, especially when it comes time to get out the vote.

Trumka is offering a hand - and showing his muscle. The union has already put up a Labor Day ad that shows blue-collar workers in old economy jobs - lots of steel and hard hats, not the kind of clean, green jobs imagined by the Obama Democrats. The AFL-CIO still relies on manufacturing and industry for its dues. Like the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO has never fully embraced the Democratic agenda on the environment.

The other big unions - SEIU and AFSCME - focus on government workers and low-wage service employees. Then-candidate Obama is definitely an SEIU man, using union president Andy Stern as an adviser and seeing huge expenditures on his behalf - SEIU spent more than $85 million in 2008.

But Stern is gone and the SEIU is tapped out. And while the group promises big political spending this cycle, it's not clear what will qualify as "political." Perhaps new member outreach (that includes handing out voter registration cards) among immigrant service workers in the southwest would qualify. Whatever it is, it seems unlikely that the SEIU will bring the kind of money to bear this year in direct campaign spending as it did during the Stern-Obama salad days.

Government workers have done the best in the Obama era and AFSCME will no doubt be out in force to show their thanks. While the group has never made the kind of political expenditures as the other big unions, it provides tens of thousands of Democratic ground troops on Election Day.

But the Obama era has not been as good as labor had hoped. Some choice picks to key appointments and some stimulus spending, yes,. But not Card Check or the kind of infrastructure spending that the blue-collar workers of the high-wage, high-dues unions wanted to see. When unions spent millions to try to defeat White House-backed Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas Democratic primary, it was a warning shot to be sure.

Rest assured that Democrats are very busy these days assuring big labor that if they are allowed to keep the majority for another cycle, unions will have more to show for it.

The downside is that the things unions want to hear - more spending, Card Check, etc. - are pretty toxic to voters in swing districts.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.