CHICAGO (PAI)–The AFL-CIO has set a political goal, second only to helping presumed Democratic nominee Barack Obama win the White House, of achieving a filibuster-proof 60-vote pro-worker majority in this year’s elections.

But to do so may be an uphill battle, as it would require Democrats to win at least nine of 11 targeted U.S. Senate races and not lose a single seat of their own. And even several of the hopefuls, seeking strong labor support during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Chicago, described the problems they face on the campaign trail.

Democrats and Republicans are currently tied at 49 seats each in the Senate. Two independents, who vote with workers on their issues, caucus with the Democrats.

The GOP needs only 41 votes to keep filibusters going and to kill progressive legislation, including pro-worker laws and attempts to start withdrawal of U.S. forces from GOP President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.

The Senate Republicans have launched at least 86 successful filibusters–an all-time record–against Democratic initiatives, including the Employee Free Choice Act, to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining.

In another case, on legislation important to the Fire Fighters to order states to give collective bargaining rights to public safety workers, such as Fire Fighters, police and EMTs, the filibuster failed. But the GOP talked that to death by launching 20 amendments and discussing them endlessly.

All that led federation President John J. Sweeney, at an August 4 reception for Senate hopefuls, to proclaim the fed’s goal as “60 in ’08,” referring to the filibuster-proof margin unions need.

“We have to win nine seats to have a filibuster-proof majority and achieve a fair shot at health care we can all count on, fair trade, revenue to provide new jobs in this economic crisis and the Employee Free Choice Act,” Sweeney said.

The targeted races he listed are in Minnesota, Oregon, Maine, Kentucky–against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the filibuster orchestrator–along with New Hampshire, North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Mississippi. Independent analysts have conceded Democrats the lead in Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado, and called Minnesota, Alaska and Oregon tossups.

The hopefuls who spoke to unionists in Chicago had varying messages:

* Oregon House Speaker Jeff Berkley (D) touted his legislature’s pro-labor record and the flip-flips of his foe, incumbent Gordon Smith (R). Smith, Berkley said, is busy changing positions to flee a voting record that is 90% supportive of Bush–because polls show Bush is more unpopular in Oregon than in any other state.

“Workers couldn’t get benefits, but we changed that in the state legislature. We adopted the Employee Free Choice Act for public employees,” guaranteeing card-check recognition for them, he added. “And we ended the use of non-compete contracts” steered to favored, non-union, bidders, Berkley said.

Berkley said he wants to bring the same progressive record to the U.S. Senate/ “But I can get it done only with you,” he explained.

* Kentucky industrialist Bruce Bensford can finance his own race against McConnell, but was not the first choice of several unions due to his past business practices. He proclaimed he already has shifted the terms of the campaign and has the minority leader “in trouble.”

McConnell, Bensford said, has already spent $1.5 million on ads, and none have touted McConnell’s own 24-year Senate record. “They’re all attacking me” and his support of the Employee Free Choice Act, Bensford told the crowd.

Signaling a campaign theme, Bensford added that for workers “everything you hold dear has been taken away by George W. Bush and Mitch McConnell.” But Bensford did not mention one key fact: That Kentucky has not elected a Democratic U.S. Senator in years.

* Popular ex-New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who lost a close race to then-Rep. John Sununu (R) in an open-seat contest in 2002, vowed the outcome would be different this year. New Hampshire has been trending Democratic since then.

But she also said she’s “in a tough race” where Sununu “has $3 million more in the bank than I do, and they’ve spent $5 million in independent expenditures” by outside pro-GOP groups not formally affiliated with the senator’s campaign.

Shaheen said a Sununu-hired cameraman is trailing her campaign appearances, taping everything and asking her why she “does not support the secret ballot” in union elections–a reference to the GOP-Right Wing campaign slogan against EFCA in all the contested Senate races. “I support the right to organize,” she replied. She turned the tables on the cameraman in one town, pointing him out to the crowd and saying “this guy is part of the crowd that doesn’t support a living wage, that doesn’t support retirement benefits for workers, that doesn’t support health care for all….They tossed him out of the hall.”

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