WASHINGTON – President Bush has been courting unions for two years, but critics say the suitor is getting dumped before he even gets to the party.
The vast majority of union dollars are going to Democratic candidates this year -- not unlike previous elections -- with a pile of money going into the nation's closest Senate races.
"As far as the money goes, [the unions] are still giving overwhelmingly Democrat and liberal," said Mike Franc, political analyst for the Heritage Foundation.
"They are backing all of the liberal candidates who are going to ultimately vote against the president's agenda," said Dan Cronin, a spokesman for the National Right to Work, which fights for the right of workers against compulsory union membership.
Though Bush has made some inroads in winning union support, Republicans are still way behind when it comes to financial aid and campaign assistance.
Out of the $1.9 million given to candidates in this election cycle, 84 percent of donations made by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters went to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission reports. That doesn't count any unregulated soft money donations that would cover advertisements and "get-out-the-vote" efforts.
"We support candidates that support our members regardless of which party," said Teamsters' spokesman Rob Black.
"It's not like the Bush administration has really gone out on a limb for unions," said Cathy Roeder, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, which gave all but $26,000 of its estimated $2 million in donations to Democrats this year. The Republicans they did give to are in safe districts.
The National Education Association has given $1.2 million to candidates this year, $81,000 of which went to Republicans, mostly moderates.
"I think the administration has reached out to us, and on some occasions, they have not," said Randall Moody of the NEA, adding that NEA money has gone to GOP candidates. "It depends on the issue."
The unions point out that they do support some Republican candidates, when they deserve it.
"If the so-called right-to-work movement would stop and check their facts, they would see that the Teamsters have endorsed Gov. George Pataki in New York," and Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio, among others, Black said. Pataki and Taft are both far ahead in their re-election bids.
Cronin alleges that even though the president has made ample efforts to woo union support, the impact has been negligible when it comes to election campaigns, but it has been very painful to base Republican supporters.
"[Teamsters President James] Hoffa openly brags that he has more influence with [the] Bush administration than the Clinton administration," Cronin said. "[Bush] is alienating his base."
But whether the president has actively courted the unions is a matter of perspective. Unions say the president hasn't gone nearly far enough.
Roeder pointed to the president's decision to overturn a Clinton-era ergonomics protection law in one of his first executive orders. Bush also overturned a Clinton executive order requiring union contracts on all federal construction projects.
The president has also insisted that unions not interfere with hiring and firing in the new homeland security agency.
But Cronin said the president has done a number of things to placate the powerful union lobby, and he hasn't gotten the pay off for any of it.
For instance, the president refused to support an amendment to the corporate responsibility bill passed by the Senate that would have held unions to the same accounting standards to be required of corporations.
Bush also gave a nod to the National Education Association when he took any mention of private school vouchers -- another campaign issue -- out of his "No Child Left Behind Act," and he promised Teamsters jobs if they supported drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.
"[The White House] has reached out very aggressively," Franc said.
In September, Solicitor General Ted Olson asked the Supreme Court not to review a Clinton-era ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that allows employees to be fired for not financially supporting union organizing activities. Media reports have also suggested that Hoffa was given "veto power" over Bush's recess appointments to the NLRB this year.
"I wouldn't know about that," Black said.
The White House did not return calls for comment.
Black acknowledged that the administration has worked on several issues with the Teamsters, but added that Bush bucked the unions over fast-track legislation and border trucking issues.
Franc said that while it may not look like it now, Bush may be making inroads with the unions in that they have supported him on some issues and don't appear as hostile towards the administration, or Republicans, in this campaign.
"He might have succeeded in taking the sting out of anti-Republican demonstrations," he said. "I have not seen the proverbial break-the-bank, desperate 11th-hour effort to beat all of the Republicans in the country."