Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s worst nightmare is that his party’s nominee, Mitt Romney, will set a record for presidential candidates.
Romney may lose his home state of 40 years, which he governed for four, by the largest margin of any U.S. presidential candidate.
Recent voter surveys show Romney trailing President Barack Obama in the state by 14 to 33 percentage points. The largest margin of defeat for any presidential candidate in his home state was Herbert Hoover, who lost Iowa by almost 18 points in 1932. Republican Romney also would be the first one-time governor to lose his home state since Adlai Stevenson in Illinois in 1956, and before that Al Smith of New York in 1928.
To overcome the anticipated Obama tsunami in Massachusetts, Brown is counting on thousands of voters splitting their tickets to back him over his Democratic opponent, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, with whom he’s running neck-and-neck in polls. Brown, who won the seat in a 2010 special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, needs every Obama voter he can get, including members of organized labor.
“For the union workers listening and watching: I’m a union member,” Brown, 53, said as he and Warren, 63, sparred in an Oct. 1 debate. “There’s only one person in this race who’s been fighting for union issues, and that’s me.”
The overture to labor stands out as an anomaly among Republicans across the country who have taken aim at the regular backers of Democratic causes and candidates. Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, for instance, drew the ire of unions in their quests to curb collective bargaining and pass so-called right-to-work legislation.
It is one of a number of positions advocated by Brown, a self-described bipartisan moderate, that are at odds with the Republican Party platform, such as his support for abortion and gay rights.
In the Oct. 1 debate as on the campaign trail, Brown emphasized his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline and lower taxes for all income levels, which are standard Republican stances that also appeal to union members. He criticized Warren’s past legal work for corporate clients, calling her a “hired gun,” in an attempt to undermine the pro-worker image she has sought to project.
Warren didn’t let pass Brown’s labor-friendly comment -- “The unions have endorsed me,” she said. Referred to favorably by union leaders as the sheriff of Wall Street, Warren has won the backing of the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, the state’s two teachers unions, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council and unions representing ironworkers, pipefitters, steel workers and carpenters, among others. Last week, a coalition of 10 law-enforcement organizations threw their weight behind Brown.
The advantage labor support can bring to a campaign was on display last weekend, when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry joined Warren for a kickoff rally in Malden, a suburb of Boston. The canvass that followed had hundreds of members knocking on doors, part of a statewide get- out-the-vote campaign started months ago.
Warren has made the need for more infrastructure investment a central part of her plan to create jobs and boost the economy, and appears in an ad alongside hard-hatted construction workers.
Organized labor has long been a financial powerhouse for Democrats. Labor groups have spent more than $188.5 million in the past 18 months, through Oct. 1, on television and radio advertising, donations to candidates, contributions to political action committees and other election-related items, according to a Bloomberg Government review of U.S. Federal Election Commission records.
Dominated by union-heavy industries such as health care and teaching, about 14.6 percent of Massachusetts workers belonged to a union in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, about 11.8 percent of workers did.
Brown is one of them. He joined the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, since merged, when he began a modeling career that had him posing in patterned sweaters, business suits and rain gear. He also appeared nude in Cosmopolitan magazine in June 1982, when he was a 22-year-old Boston College law student.
‘Enough Bad Actors’
“We’ve had enough bad actors in Washington,” said Steven Tolman, president of AFL-CIO’s Massachusetts chapter and a former state Senate colleague of Brown’s. The union endorsed Brown in his 2008 re-election bid to the state Senate and now supports Warren. “He says he stands with working people -- what has he stood with us on?”
Tolman points to what he calls anti-union votes Brown has cast in his nearly three years in the U.S. Senate, including rejections of collective-bargaining rights, a prevailing wage law on federally funded construction sites and the confirmation of Craig Becker, an Obama nominee for the National Labor Relations Board.
Brown has sought to undercut Warren’s labor advantage by going after rank-and-file members. The effort is helped by his “guy’s guy” image that appeals to a constituency that has helped elect Republicans in the Democratic-leaning state, said Tom Juravich, a labor historian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“He’s speaking to white, culturally conservative males who he wants to identify with him because they’re culturally like him,” Juravich said. “What the union is saying is that this is not about culture, it’s about politics and economics -- that Elizabeth Warren may not look like you, but she’s got your back.”
Brown’s strategy may be working, according to a Sept. 17 poll by Suffolk University. In it, voters from households with union members favored Brown over Warren, 46 percent to 41 percent. Eleven percent of those in union-member households were undecided, three points higher than the total population surveyed, said David Paleologos, who directs the university’s polling institute.
“Rank-and-file union members appreciate Scott Brown’s independence and the fact that he is working hard to improve this economy and create more jobs for everyone,” Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the senator, said in an e-mail.
In Suffolk’s poll released the week before the 2010 election, which has served as a stand-in for exit polling, households with union members supported Brown, 53 percent to 45 percent, over his Democratic opponent, State Attorney General Martha Coakley. Brown won the election with 52 percent of the vote to Coakley’s 47 percent.
For the AFL-CIO’s Tolman, a Warren victory would hold significance beyond how it would help the Democratic Party’s chances of maintaining its slim majority in the Senate.
“It would truly be an honor for us to have someone with her passion and her commitment to working-class issues to take the seat held by the lion himself, Teddy Kennedy,” the Democrat who served in the Senate for almost 47 years, Tolman said.
For Brown, denying Warren that status means overcoming any drag from the Romney campaign. Since Stevenson’s defeat, five governors have won their party’s nominations and their home states in the general election: Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and 1988 Democratic Party nominee Michael Dukakis, another former Massachusetts governor.
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