With poll numbers showing Sen. Arlen Specter in dangerous electoral water, union officials have begun presenting what amounts to a "get-out-of-jail-free" card for the Pennsylvania Republican: Recant your opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, pledge to support the labor-backed bill, and we might be able to carry you to reelection.
On Friday, Rasmussen polling released a survey of 490 likely Pennsylvania Republican voters showing Specter trailing his primary challenger Pat Toomey by a margin of 30 percent to 51 percent. Adding a bit of salt to the wound, the 21-point margin had gone up seven points from the poll conducted last month by Quinnipiac, when Specter trailed Toomey by 27 percent to 41 percent.
The senator's abruptly-declared opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act was supposed to stop the bleeding he was experiencing among more conservative Pennsylvanians. Now, with evidence suggesting the opposite, union officials see an opening to win his vote back.
"Last time the unions supported Arlen Specter," said SEIU executive director Andy Stern in an interview with the Huffington Post. "So it is hard to imagine that without a shift in policy on the Employee Free Choice Act that that will happen this time. And when you add that on top of what the polling numbers are showing right now, I think he has a steep climb here and his decision on the Employee Free Choice Act has made things harder."
Asked whether local, state or even national unions would actually consider backing the Senator again on the condition that he voted for the Employee Free Choice Act, Stern responded:
"Our members make decisions on issues. We have clearly said the most important issue is the Employee Free Choice Act. When we endorsed him in the last race he promised that he would be a supporter or vote for cloture. And if that doesn't occur... it won't be much of a debate about what to do."
The new poll numbers, Stern noted, came before many of the 170,000 Republican union households in Pennsylvania had time to digest Specter's "change of heart." And they reflect, he added, what the labor community is seeing in its own surveys. Stern said that he has internal polling numbers similar to the Rasmussen survey that has Barack Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Casey with favorability ratings higher than Specter among Pennsylvania Republicans. An official at a different union confirmed those findings.
Whether the dangling of union help in the primary is a shrewd political ploy on Stern's part or a real chance for Specter to regain electoral turf remains to be seen. What seems more certain is that the senator's roll of the dice on the Employee Free Choice Act has not yet proven fruitful.
"In this bad economy, selling out America's workers is going to get you one thing -- a spot in the unemployment line," proclaimed one union official. "Anyone running for election in 2010 would be wise to learn that lesson from Specter."
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