WASHINGTON – Organized labor's trumpeted get-out-the-vote operations failed to generate an ocean of support for Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) despite the tens of millions of dollars spent on the effort to unseat President Bush.
Labor leaders braced for a repeat of four caustic years under Bush, even as he vowed to earn the support and trust of Kerry supporters. "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation," Bush said Wednesday after Kerry bowed out of the race.
Asked about the outlook for a relationship with Bush, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (search) said icily, "You can ask President Bush (search)." In the first term, he added, "there was no relationship."
Sweeney himself faces uncertainty. He is up for re-election next year and has said he will seek another term. But infighting among union leaders about the direction of the labor movement, including its political clout, is expected to produce challengers. Union leaders had agreed to set aside differences to focus on defeating Bush.
In the presidential race, the share of the electorate belonging to a union or living with a union member remained at about the same level as the past four elections, according to exit polls.
About 14 percent of voters Tuesday said they were union members, compared with 16 percent in 2000. Union households were 24 percent of the electorate compared with 26 percent in the previous presidential race. About two-thirds said they voted for Kerry, matching similar support for Al Gore in 2000, despite union spending that is expected to double the $90 million bankrolled in 2000.
The exit polls were conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International.
In Ohio, which denied Kerry the White House, union members were 17 percent of voters. More than one-third of them voted for Bush. Almost 17 percent of Ohio's work force belongs to a union.
Unions under the AFL-CIO umbrella deployed 5,000 full-time, paid workers and more than 200,000 volunteers in battleground states to turn out members. Labor set up 257 phone banks with 2,322 lines running in 16 states, and handed out more than 32 million pro-Kerry fliers at work sites and in neighborhoods.
For the first time, union members in pro-Kerry states traveled to swing states to help turn out members.
Sweeney praised the "tremendous" effort in the face of declining union membership and large voter turnout. He noted that "we have more to do."
Labor officials said unions turned out their members, but the Democratic Party did not.
"We have always said that the labor movement could never do it alone," said AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman. Union households were one in four voters, yet union membership nationwide has eroded to 12.9 percent of the work force.
The party criticism comes despite Democrats' mass mobilization efforts through partisan groups known as 527s, some of which were headed by labor turnout experts.
"We certainly will be assessing the role of the Democratic Party," Sweeney said. Labor will examine its member mobilization program and "we will be advising the Democratic Party as to where we think they can be strengthened as well," he said.
More than half of all voters from union households said the job situation in their area was worse than four years ago, significantly more than those from nonunion households, according to exit polls.
Six in 10 union household voters rated the nation's economy as not so good or poor, compared with less than half of voters from nonunion households.
Voters from union households said the economy was the top issue; it mattered most to a one-fourth of them. In contrast, voters with no union members put moral values on top.