04/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Colorado Senate Race -- The First Big Endorsements

Politicos looking from the outside of Colorado would say that conventional wisdom would indicate that endorsements from the sitting Governor and the President would be the first significant endorsements in a Senate race, but in Colorado, more important endorsements just came in - from labor and from fellow legislators.

First - two of the largest unions in the State of Colorado announced their endorsement of Andrew Romanoff:

U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff has won the support of two of Colorado's largest labor organizations.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 23,000 members statewide, and the Colorado Council of Teamsters, with 16,000 members, endorsed Romanoff's primary bid.

Second, 60 legislators endorsed Romanoff in a campaign press release:

Sixty current and former Colorado state legislators endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff today.

Two days after receiving the backing of two of the state's largest labor groups, today's endorsements are further evidence of Romanoff's growing momentum. An independent poll released last week showed Romanoff gaining ground on Republican front-runner Jane Norton, narrowing her lead to within the margin of error. Romanoff's opponent in the Democratic primary is losing ground in the same survey; he now trails Norton by 14 points.

(Correction -- I just found out one additional legislator joined to make the total 61 - Thanks to Rep. Linda Newell)

More on the labor endorsements:

"Local 7 of the United Food and Commercial Workers is proud to endorse Andrew Romanoff," said Kim Cordova, the union's president. "Andrew has always stood by Colorado working families and the 23,000 members we represent."

Steve Vairma, president of the Teamsters, praised Romanoff's dedication to Colorado and all of its citizens. "Andrew Romanoff was always straight with us," Vairma said. "We didn't see eye to eye on every issue, but his door was always open, and we could trust him to tell us the truth."

That last quote from Mr. Vairma was especially telling since Andrew Romanoff has never voted 100% with labor as a legislator.

Yet this is still a ringing endorsement, which begs the question - why not Senator Bennet?
Senator Bennet has not taken any position on a key piece of legislation to labor, the Employee Free Choice Act - as seen in this video:

The Denver Post wrote:

His silence on a few contentious issues, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, prompted Republicans to deride him as "Silent Senator Bennet."

But we don't think Sen. Michael Bennet's silence was for lack of an opinion; rather, he was hoping to stave off a primary challenger from his left, knowing it could prove to be costly both politically and financially. His war chest -- more than $2 million raised in nine months -- also was meant to ward off all comers.

This is an example of trying to run a 'centrist' campaign that tries to ride out sticky political issues by not staking a position, and sometimes it works, but recent trends in Colorado and in Massachusetts don't support that model of campaigning.

Case in point: Massachusetts labor voters, who are traditionally base Democrats, split down the middle on the vote between Coakley and Brown.

According to the AFL-CIO's election night survey of Massachusetts voters, 49 percent of union members voted for Brown compared to 46 percent who backed Coakley. That's even worse than the findings of a Republican election night survey, which found union voters split 49-48 for Brown and Coakley, respectively.

That election was the first wake up call to the White House on taking the base for granted.
Here in Colorado, the Governor, Bill Ritter, made labor specific pledges and then went back on his pledge once in office, ultimately costing him his chance at re-election.

"When he campaigned, he made it clear he was behind the labor movement. We're tired of seeing bill after bill falling to his pen. He's not the man we thought we were electing," Steve Vairma, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 455, told Channel 7 after Ritter vetoed the firefighter bill Thursday.

This angered labor enough that they formed Labor Initiatives Against Ritter or LIAR, and ultimately tanked Ritter's polling numbers, which in turn, lead to his exit from the race.

The same pattern has been seen at the White House.

As a person who worked on a union presidential campaign, the biggest motivating factors during the campaign was passing a health care bill with at least the public option and the Employee Free Choice Act.

The response from Obama and his campaign was 'you have my support,' but how do unions feel about that pledge now?

Not so good.
(hattip to Harold Meyerson)

The unions, which spent more than $300 million in the 2008 elections on Democrats' behalf, wanted a vote on EFCA last year, but Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked them to wait until health reform had passed. (Their requests for confirmation votes on NLRB appointees were similarly delayed.)

By my count, this marks the fourth time in the past half-century that labor's efforts to strengthen workers' ability to organize have been deferred by the Democratic presidents and the heavily Democratic Congresses they supported. In 1965, about the only piece of Great Society legislation not enacted was the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act provision that gave states the power to block unions from claiming as members all the employees in workplaces where they had won contracts. In 1979, as American management was beginning to invest heavily in union-busting endeavors, the first effort to reform labor law failed to win cloture in the Senate by one vote as President Jimmy Carter stood idly by. In 1994, President Bill Clinton responded to a similar labor-backed effort by appointing a commission to recommend changes in labor law to the next Congress -- which turned out to be run by Newt Gingrich. asking his labor supporters to wait, Obama ensured -- unintentionally, of course -- that the next effort to revive organizing must wait until the next overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.

Labor has all to often watched past Democratic Presidents along with President Obama make pledges and then fail to knuckle up and lead on meaningful legislation. Obama might still come through on the health care bill and the Employee Free Choice Act, but in the short term - especially for the mid terms, will labor or the base be motivated to turn out to vote or donate for incumbent Democrats?
(hint to the President : use reconciliation and use a recess appointment for Craig Becker)

Bennet's endorsement by Governor Ritter and Barack Obama may have seemed important when they were made, but as time has gone on, these endorsements mean that labor and a majority of the Democratic Legislators in the State have decided to put their boots on the ground for Andrew Romanoff. And at the end of the day, the base of the party will decide who is the candidate that wins the Primary and competes in the General Election. Labor's endorsement indicates that they are not willing to be taken for granted by any official, and are willing to fund a primary to get someone who listens. The 60 legislators who have endorsed Andrew Romanoff are also a key part of the Democratic base - people the local voters trust. These endorsements are a big step to the Primary victory for Andrew Romanoff, and a loud message for those who take labor or the base for granted.