Bracing for the possibility that Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives in the fall, one of the top labor unions in the country is now operating what aides are calling a "firewall" election strategy for 2010.
The idea, being spearheaded within the political offices of the AFL-CIO, is to prioritize a small portion of congressional races that -- if sealed off from a broader wave of Republican wins -- would prevent the House from being run by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the next cycle.
"I think it is an absolute political reality [that Democrats could lose the House]," AFL-CIO Political Director Karen Ackerman told the Huffington Post. "There are over 60 races that are in play, incumbents whose elections are endangered. Are we demoralized? No. Are we prepared to take a look at who are the best fighters on behalf of working people's issues and put the most support behind those folks and engage where we have the greatest union density? Yes. And we can make a major difference in those races."
"The House is a serious issue," Ackerman added. "Speaker Boehner would probably not work for us."
Coming amidst growing discussion about the possibility of massive losses in November, the "firewall" strategy is an attempt to apply sober-minded analysis to the electoral map. It was developed well back in the election cycle. But it has only begun being put into affect this week, as concerns have spread over the possibility of deep electoral losses. AFL-CIO staff are already on the ground in key districts beginning the first stages of the emergency safeguard campaign.
Ackerman would not detail which specific races the AFL-CIO was or would prioritize. But she did lay out a strategy in which the union would focus its efforts on 25 individual states where there is a large density of members and non-affiliated workforces. The list includes, New York, Illinois, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Ohio as well as (likely) Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Once (or if) the union decides that the House of Representatives is in peril -- or if it were to see a Senate or gubernatorial race that could be saved or swayed -- it will divert resources from other campaigns to races in those areas.
"It is shifting gears from focusing on one state to another. It is a nimble program," said Ackerman. "It involves resources, in terms of doing more mail, more phones, more worksite leafleting, more door-to-door knocks. This program is based on all of the affiliates participating as well." (The union has 56 national and international affiliates).
How and when the AFL-CIO would re-oriented its election strategy is unclear. Though Ackerman did hint that the union was in touch with the various Democratic campaign committees -- as it is not legally prohibited from doing so -- and has been talking to individual candidates as well.
The AFL-CIO's campaign priorities are not, it should be noted, directly in line with those of the Democratic Party. But the construction of a firewall strategy certainly suggests that it too is wary of the potential for Republican control of Congress. Moreover, it underscores the fact that talk of a GOP avalanche in the fall has moved beyond the hypothetical stages and more towards a place where the party and its allied groups are beginning to actively plan and brace for the possibility.