Election 2018: Trump looms over it all
Rep. Beto O'Rourke has campaigned in every county in the state of Texas. | Richard W. Rodriguez/AP

WASHINGTON – Millions of voters, many of them Democrats including historic numbers of women, angry at the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and subsequent GOP actions trashing everyone but the 1 percent, are mobilizing in a blue wave.

A fearful part of the Trump base, many registered as Republicans, some allowing their fear to turn into hate, and many crowing over the ascension of a right-wing federal judge –- Brett Kavanaugh — to the Supreme Court, is surging in a red counter-wave.

African-Americans, Latinos, progressive Jews, and class-conscious white workers, women, the old and the young are entering the political arena in unprecedented numbers to reject the Trump agenda of tax cuts for the rich and destruction of healthcare for most.

Some white voters are getting involved, unfortunately, to back what they perceive as positive efforts to “Make America Great Again” by trashing U.S. allies, imposing tariffs on Canada and cultivating dictators around the world.

And, looming over and driving it all, is Donald Trump.

Welcome to the 2018 mid-term election, probably the most-consequential one the U.S. has had in decades. Its outcome could set the course of the country for at least 10 years.

With just over a week to go until the Nov. 6 balloting, and with early voting under way in states that allow it, the outcome is very much up for grabs. Public opinion polls have shown consistent leads for Democrats and worker allies to take back the U.S. House and pick up some key governorships, notably in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and possibly Georgia and Florida.

But polls have been wrong in the past, especially when African-Americans seek top jobs. Democrats Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee in Florida, Stacey Abrams, the state house minority leader in Georgia, and Ben Jealous, the former NAACP head in Maryland, all seek governorships. Gillum and especially Abrams must fight GOP voter suppression, too.

Meanwhile, both major parties and outside shady dark money special interests poured millions of dollars into a mass airwaves campaign. Total spending already tops $1 billion. Just one gubernatorial till, in Illinois, shattered the $200 million mark – and that was by July.

In all this, workers and their allies are campaigning nationwide on economic themes. The GOP’s $1.2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the rich is a big talking point – and voters realize it doesn’t trickle down to them. And both Democrats and workers are trumpeting the GOP’s past and present efforts to demolish the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, especially its protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

In yet one of many lies, Republicans now say they plan to protect those vulnerable people, while Democrats would not. That’s despite more than 60 congressional roll calls, all pushed by the GOP, to repeal the ACA. Such is the tenor of the 2018 GOP campaign.

The goal they’re fighting over: whether Democrats gain at least 24 U.S. House seats, thus wresting control from the worker-hating Republican majority. And whether the GOP increases its Senate margin from 51-47, plus two pro-Democratic independents.

“We can’t ride a wave to victory. It takes work!” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently told the Northeastern Illinois Labor Council. “I need you to volunteer. I need you to door knock and phone bank. If you haven’t yet, send local union mail to your members. Have conversations at the worksite. Come join us for a labor walk.”

“I’m not going to raise $2 million to win a seat nobody knows about,” says Penny Morales Shaw, one labor-backed candidate for a seat on the Harris County (Houston) Commission, which controls a $2 billion budget. “But dollars don’t win elections. People do.”

The reason the 2018 election is so important was summarized in a plea for more money for pro-worker, pro-woman, pro-gun control candidates in Florida – not just Gillum, but for the state legislature, where progressive forces face, right now, a GOP veto-proof majority.

“These races are of vital national importance,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said. “Only a blue Florida can stop mass voter suppression in a key swing state in 2020. And, if Republicans control the upcoming redistricting process in this large, fast-growing state, multiple seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be lost to Republicans for a decade or more.”

Those words could be applied to many large and medium-sized GOP-gerrymandered states. The 2010 mid-term GOP election sweep gave the right-wing control of governors’ chairs and legislatures in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas, among others. They exploited it to the hilt.

That’s why the 2018 election is so important. Most of the 36 governors chosen this fall will have a big say in who represents you and me after the 2020 census re-allots U.S. House seats among the states, and state legislative seats within them. In all but six states – Iowa, California, and Arizona among them – governors and legislatures make those decisions.

Even some of pro-worker state legislative margins are close: One seat, for example, in the Washington state senate. Similar small margins in Oregon. And the New York state senate was effectively controlled by a coalition of Republicans and eight renegade conservative Democrats – six of whom lost their primaries to progressives in early September.

State lawmakers matter. California’s legislature and retiring Gov. Jerry Brown (D) passed a raft of pro-worker – and anti-Trump – laws. Right-wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois tried to jam through a right-to-work law but lost 71-0 in the Democratic-run state senate. But Rauner also initiated the infamous U.S. Supreme Court case that made every single state and local worker in the U.S. a potential “free rider,” thus slamming unions and workers in the pocketbook. That dollar drain could hamper labor’s election efforts.

Rauner now trails by double digits in the polls to AFL-CIO-endorsed Democratic nominee, J.B. Pritzker, a hotel executive whose Hyatt chain has some labor baggage of its own. But Pritzker’s favored to win, aided by unionists angered at Rauner’s disastrous reign.

Similarly, Wisconsin unionists feel confident about their chances of knocking off right-wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker, author of the infamous Act 10, which emasculated the Badger State’s public worker unions – sparing those few unions that endorsed him for the top job when he first ran in 2010. But Walker survived three prior elections, including a recall labor pushed.

Recent polls give the Democratic and union-backed nominee, Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, an average lead of 3.6 percentage points, but the most recent survey gives Walker a 1-point lead. Both are within the margin of error.

Similarly, the heavily Republican Michigan government was criminally negligent, or worse, in the Flint lead-in-the-water catastrophe. And departing GOP Gov. Rick Snyder willingly signed the right-wing majority’s demolition of state worker protections.

That’s sent Michigan unions out on the hustings en masse in favor of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer, electing more pro-worker state lawmakers – and favoring a referendum that would set up a non-partisan redistricting commission.

The combination of the Flint water mess and an effective “Fix the damn roads” theme by Whitmer, a former state legislator, gives her a 46 percent-41 percent lead over GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette. Seven percent of voters back a Libertarian and the rest are undecided.

Workers are guaranteed frequent allies in several top races including New York governor (Andrew Cuomo), California governor (Gavin Newsom), legislature and U.S. Senator (Dianne Feinstein or Kevin DeLeon). However, progressive Democrats, including progressive unions, are upset by some Feinstein votes and cooperation with Trump and Cuomo’s failures on ethics and other issues in Albany.

Besides Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, and Georgia there are many other notable races key to workers and their allies. Among them:

OHIO: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) is campaigning as if he’s in trouble, but he isn’t, in swing state Ohio. The big race is for the open governor’s chair between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine. The two faced off once before, and DeWine won. This time, Cordray, the candidate of the party establishment and the AFL-CIO, is leading.

The other big-impact race in the Buckeye State is a referendum putting state legislative redistricting in the hands of a non-partisan commission. The Ohio GOP heavily gerrymandered both the legislature and the congressional seats in 2011, packing all the state’s Democrats into four congressional districts out of 16. If the voters OK non-partisan redistricting for seats in Columbus, backers say they’ll mount a second drive, covering congressional seats, in 2020.

INDIANA: Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly has been a GOP target in this increasingly red state ever since an extreme right-wing radical beat incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the party primary six years ago, handing Donnelly the seat. Outside “dark money” groups have poured millions of dollars into the race in the Hoosier State, trying to knock him off.

The state federation is campaigning for Donnelly. GOP businessman Mike Braun, who hitched himself to Trump’s coattails and who enthusiastically backs Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court, has traded the poll lead back and forth with Donnelly. Braun beat two incumbent GOP congressmen in the party primary.

MISSOURI: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is – again – trying to keep down GOP margins in rural areas outside the state’s Democratic bastions of Kansas City and St. Louis city. She does so by touting her investigations of waste and fraud, her independence and her person-to-person relations with Show Me State voters.

She’s also a strong union ally who touts her support of the ACA and of its required coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, while hitting her foe, state Attorney General Josh Hawley, for joining other GOP state attorneys general in suing to kill the ACA.

McCaskill also has a new radio ad of “two middle-aged men discussing the Senate race,” Politico reports. The narrator calls Hawley, who promised two years ago he would not seek higher office during his term, “a man in a hurry.” ‘Yep,’” comes the reply “and Claire’s not one of those crazy Democrats. She works right in the middle and finds compromise.’”

MINNESOTA: Unionists have a surfeit of riches on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party ballot this fall. Education Minnesota member Tim Walz, the Democratic congressman and Mankato High School history teacher from the GOP-leaning 1st District, leads the race for governor against a Trumpite right-wing county commissioner. And Julie Blaha, also a former teacher and recently secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, is running for auditor.

But the real action will be in U.S. House and Senate races. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., is coasting to re-election and may be eyeing a presidential bid in 2020. But the other senator, Tina Smith, the DFL lieutenant governor appointed to fill an unexpired term, leads Republican Tina Housley by 44 percent.

Four of the state’s eight congressional seats are up for grabs. Walz’s 1st District is the scene of a tight race between Democratic Iraq War veteran Dan Feehan and Republican Jim Hagedorn, scion of a state GOP political family. Outside “dark money” GOP groups have been throwing money and mud at Feehan. DFL Rep. Richard Nolan ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, so his 8th District seat, which includes the pro-union Iron Range but also GOP-leaning Twin Cities suburbs, is up for grabs. So is one other GOP-held suburban seat.

State legislator Ilhan Omar, who, if elected, would be one of the two first Muslim-American women in the U.S. House, leads in the 5th District to succeed the state’s first Muslim-American man, Keith Ellison. He’s the DFL – and labor-backed – Attorney General nominee.

ILLINOIS: Rauner isn’t the only vulnerable Republican in the Land of Lincoln. Trumka touted the chances of Democrats Sean Casten and Laura Underwood – a young African-American woman – in Chicago suburban congressional districts. Underwood is running in the former GOP bastion of DuPage County. Casten is trying to unseat GOP Rep. Peter Roskam, who belied his prior moderate reputation with a pro-Trump voting record the last two years.

PENNSYLVANIA: If pro-worker forces are to retake the U.S. House, Pennsylvania, Virginia and California may be why. The state Supreme Court redrew the Keystone State’s congressional district lines, tossing out the heavily GOP-gerrymandered prior district map. In a swing state, the legislature drew a map that gave Democrats and workers only five of the 18 districts – until Conor Lamb, an open, vocal and vociferous union supporter, narrowly won a special election earlier this year in a district Trump had won by 20 percentage points.

The remap gives Lamb a safe seat elsewhere, and the possibility of adding at least two more Democrats. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) looks safe, but the legislature is still gerrymandered.

VIRGINIA: Another GOP-gerrymandered state where voters could turn the tables on the Republicans, especially around its urban areas. One GOP lawmaker, Barbara Comstock, looks likely to lose a longtime GOP-held seat in the rapidly diversifying D.C. suburbs to pro-worker Democratic State Sen. Jennifer Wexton. Three other Republicans are in varying degrees of danger, in a delegation that is now 7-4 Republican. Energized female candidates oppose them, too. And remember, Virginia voters elected the nation’s first-ever transgender state lawmaker, Democrat – and newspaper reporter – Danica Roem, in 2017.

CONNECTICUT: Normally blue Connecticut will probably elect the 2016 U.S. Teacher of the Year, Democrat Jahana Hayes, to the open Danbury-Waterbury 5th Congressional District. She’d be Connecticut’s first African-American woman U.S. representative. Hayes, a National Education Association member and social studies teacher who backs progressive stands such as the Fight for 15 and a union, beat the party-endorsed hopeful in the primary.

Connecticut’s open governor’s seat is another matter. Millionaire Democrat Ned Lamont, a progressive who gained national attention a decade ago for upsetting pro-Iraq War Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the party primary (Lieberman then won the general election as an independent) leads right-wing businessman Robert Stefanowski by eight to nine percentage points in polls. Stefanowski promises to make Connecticut a RTW state.

Connecticut’s other four U.S. representatives, all Democrats, are safe. They include longtime workers’ rights and women’s’ rights advocate Rosa DeLauro, a congressional leader against anti-worker so-called “free trade” pacts. If Democrats take over the House, DeLauro chairs over the House Appropriations subcommittee that actually helps dole out money for the Labor Department, the Health and Human Services Department, education aid and the NLRB.

TEXAS: Almost all of organized labor backs Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who is of Hispanic-American ancestry, in his close U.S. Senate race against extreme right-wing GOP incumbent Ted Cruz, one of the most hated men in his own party.

Two exceptions: The Texas Fire Fighters Association stayed out of both the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in the Lone Star State, while the National Border Patrol Council, an AFGE sector, endorsed Cruz because of the GOPer’s anti-immigrant screeds. The Senate race is too close to call and will depend on turnout, especially if O’Rourke can mobilize Latino voters in record numbers. Workers also hope to pick up at least one U.S. House seat in the heavily GOP-gerrymandered state, in the Houston area.

O’Rourke’s voting record produced high pro-labor scores but also a 49 percent mark from the Chamber of Commerce. He’s energized Texas Democrats in a way that hasn’t been seen in the deep-red state in a quarter of a century. But Texas is 51st in the nation (including D.C.) in turnout percentages in mid-term elections. So O’Rourke concentrates on that.

He’s also either taken or been pushed into more progressive stands, including LBGTQ rights, Medicare for All and – a notable stand in the football-crazy state – supporting African-American NFL athletes who kneel during the National Anthem to draw attention to police shootings of unarmed African-American men. O’Rourke didn’t need a push on that one.

THE WEST: Besides retaining the governorship, the U.S. Senate seat and the legislature, workers and their allies hope to pick up several congressional seats in California. GOP Reps. Devin Nunes, Dana Rohrabacher and Duncan Hunter are all in political hot water.

Nunes is too much an uber-apologist for Trump and the Russians and polls show the race is a tie.

Rohrabacher is Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman. Hunter, Trump’s second congressional backer in 2016, was indicted for illegally using campaign contributions for personal expenses. The first, New York’s Chris Collins, is under indictment for insider trading.

In Oregon, pro-worker Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who pushed through a unique minimum wage hike law – higher in Portland, less in its suburbs, less in rural counties — finds herself in a tight race against GOPer Knute Buehler. She leads by four percentage points in polls. He’s backed by huge amounts of right-wing “dark money” and $2.5 million from Nike CEO Phil Knight alone. And state legislative margins are tight.

Arizona’s GOP Gov. Doug Ducey is under heavy fire from teachers and their allies, after a successful statewide strike over crumbling roofs, holes in floors and low pay. David Garcia, a professor and education specialist, is challenging him. Polls show Ducey, who reluctantly signed a bill to provide money to fix the schools and raise teachers’ pay, in the lead.

Garcia supports LBGTQ rights, Medicare for All, equal pay for equal work and other progressive positions. State Republicans are trying to co-opt teachers’ “#RedforEd” slogan.

But the marquee race in Arizona, which is becoming a “purple” swing state, is for its open GOP-held U.S. Senate seat. Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, with support of the state AFL-CIO and the Arizona Education Association – the state’s largest union and a key factor in the teachers’ win – is neck and neck with GOPer Martha McSally, a strong advocate of repealing the ACA in a state with huge numbers of retirees. The latest poll gives McSally a 48-46 percent lead, well within the margin of error.

Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, sponsors legislation for LGBTQ rights, the state fed says. She also opposes GOP efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare and raise the retirement age, opposes GOP plans to let employers deny women health care coverage for birth control, “worked to expand educational opportunities for veterans” and their transition back to civilian life, and supports comprehensive immigration reform, it adds.

Nevada, the only state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 where a GOP senator, Dean Heller, is up, features a tight race between Heller and Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen. And former Rep. Steven Horsford (D), once a top official of the state’s largest union – the 50,000-member Unite Here Culinary Workers Local 226 – is running to get his old seat back.

Steve Sisolak, the Clark County (Las Vegas) Board chairman, is in a tight race for the open governorship, against state official Adam Laxalt – scion of a prominent political family who was disowned as a “phony” by 12 of his relatives in an op-ed piece in the state’s largest newspaper.

“This is an incredibly important election year for Nevada. Our state could determine which party controls Congress, not to mention which party controls the state government.  There is a lot at stake for workers! In selecting our endorsed candidates, we looked for politicians who will fight with us to protect our union. Across the board, the people on this (election) guide meet that standard,” Local 226 said. The union is a heavy hitter in Nevada.

Control of the state legislature is the big deal in Washington, the Northwest Labor Press reports. Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is expected to coast to re-election. The one close congressional race pits Washington State University-Vancouver Carolyn Long against GOP incumbent Jaime Herrera-Beutler in the district just across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore. Herrera-Beutler’s cumulative AFL-CIO voting record is 17 percent right.

Pro-worker Democrats control the state House by only a 50-48 margin and took control of the state Senate by one seat after a late 2017 special election resulted in a Democratic win and a 25-24 lead. It also paid dividends for workers: Senators passed a previously stalled bill to make it easier for nuclear radiation-infected retirees from the Hanford nuclear waste site – whose current workers are represented by the Steelworkers — to get workers’ comp. Four state lawmakers, all Republicans with bad pro-worker voting records, seek re-election in Clark and Clackamas Counties, on the Washington side of the river.

At the last minute, red state Alaska got into the mix, and the Affordable Care Act was the reason why. On Oct. 24, independent Gov. Bill Walker dropped out, leaving former Rep. Nick Begich (D) facing businessman Mike Dunleavy (R), the presumed leader.

Politico reported the state AFL-CIO – in the nation’s third most-unionized state – promptly endorsed Begich. So did the state affiliate of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union.

“When Walker announced he was suspending his campaign, he specifically cited protecting the expansion of Medicaid as a reason he wanted to see votes against Dunleavy combined under one banner in the election,” Politico added.

One caveat, besides the unreliability of polls: Despite GOP screams, not all the candidates’ labor supports are Democrats, and not all Democrats are labor-supported.

The Kansas State Council of Fire Fighters, for example, is staying out of the close governor’s race there between controversial GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach and State Sen. Laura Kelly (D). Kobach is author of infamous anti-immigrant and voter ID laws in his home state and elsewhere. The two are in a dead heat. The union endorsed neither.

The Idaho AFL-CIO endorsed candidates in down-ballot races, but not Jordan, the Native American. The Will County (Ill.)  Labor Record reported the building trades in that Chicago suburban county pulled their endorsement from a local union member seeking a county board seat after he turned against a key project to be built by union label.

And when the Harris County (Houston) AFL-CIO political committee endorsed four down-ballot Republicans, Communications Workers Local 6222 President Steven Flores told his colleagues the GOP had never done anything for organized labor and then left.

Further, the national AFL-CIO touts its efforts in leafleting, canvassing and social media for two of the three African-Americans, Abrams and Gillum, seeking governors’ chairs. They also trumpet putting similar resources into two dozen other races involving African-Americans.

But the fed is notably silent about its lack of support for the third African-American gubernatorial nominee, Marylander Ben Jealous. It has yet to answer repeated e-mails asking why. Two activist unions, National Nurses United and the Communications Workers, backed Jealous before the party primary against the party favorite, and have stuck by him.

“It looks to a lot of people that the only candidates labor supports are Democrats,” said Todd Tennis, a Michigan lobbyist for the Electrical Workers (IBEW) for Capitol Services and an Ingham County, Mich., Commissioner, told the Detroit Building Tradesman. “But that’s not the case. For example, the IBEW is supporting the handful of Republicans who voted with us on prevailing wage.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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