Labor unions put heat on Democrats

By Joseph Weber, The Washington Times

While conservatives and “tea party” activists have made headlines pressuring Republican candidates from the right this election season, a number of moderate Democrats are under attack in primary battles and even third-party challenges from their labor allies on the left.

The AFL-CIO and other labor groups have been a mainstay of the Democratic coalition, but have not always seen eye to eye with the Obama administration or with a number of centrist Democrats – differences highlighted in the lengthy battle over health care, in debates over education reform, and in stalled efforts to change key labor laws.

In Arkansas, the AFL-CIO is openly working to defeat incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an opponent of the health bill’s public option plan, in the May 18 Democratic primary. Hawaii labor unions have broken with the national Democratic Party over which candidate to back in a special House election, giving Republicans an opening to win the seat. And in North Carolina, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is helping to form a third party designed in part to challenge state Democratic lawmakers who voted against the health care law.

“The next group of people going to Washington needs to be looking out for the pocketbooks of the middle class, not for the profits of insurance companies,” said Greg Rideout, spokesman for the newly formed North Carolina First party.

The party must collect and submit roughly 85,000 signatures to local election officials by May 17, then have the certified petitions to the state by June 1.

Three of the 34 congressional Democrats who voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – Reps. Heath Shuler, Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell – are from North Carolina. The new party has yet to decide whether it will mount a challenge against each of them.

“Right now, we’re just trying to put ourselves in a position to get on the ballot,” said Mr. Rideout, adding he had no up-to-date signature tally. “We’re not at the point where we’re looking for candidates.”

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