CINCINNATI — Delegates to the Ohio AFL-CIO convention here last week expressed optimism and a strong fighting spirit. For the first time in decades, they see a real opportunity to replace the state’s corrupt Republican officeholders with labor-friendly candidates.

“Labor is more united today around the need to defeat these pro-corporate, extremist right-wingers that have been running our state into the ground than any time in my lifetime,” said Ohio AFL-CIO President Bill Burga.

The AFL-CIO issued its election endorsements, strongly supporting Democrats Ted Strickland for governor and Sherrod Brown for the Senate, as well as many local candidates. The Strickland/Brown team is considered the strongest, most pro-labor team to run for top office in Ohio in the modern era.

Strickland is running against Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican. Blackwell, while still holding the secretary of state position, co-chaired Bush’s 2004 Ohio campaign, setting up a conflict of interests: As secretary of state, he was in charge of that state’s elections, which were fraught with charges of irregularities.

Many have charged that Blackwell used his office to help Bush steal the election in Ohio, and thus, the nation.

Strickland and Brown are calling for universal health care, full funding of education, funding for alternative fuels, ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and a raise in the minimum wage.

Blackwell’s campaign is supporting an anti-union “right to work” law, privatization of the Ohio turnpike, numerous anti-gay measures and public financing of religious schools. Blackwell opposes any raise in the state’s minimum wage.

Ohio labor is coordinating its efforts to defeat the Republicans’ long-standing stranglehold on state government. Labor is also campaigning hard for passage of a ballot initiative to raise Ohio’s minimum wage, one of the lowest in the nation.

Labor’s optimism is fueled by polls that show popular support for Bush is waning. His approval rating in Ohio now hovers in the mid-20 percent range. However, these numbers are high in comparison to those of Republican officeholders in Ohio, including current Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest to violations of state ethics laws; politicians linked to the “Coin-gate” scandal, which saw Ohio Republicans strip the state workers’ compensation fund to illegally funnel money to Bush’s campaign; and Rep. Bob Ney, who has been tied to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

In other actions at the AFL-CIO convention, three resolutions were unanimously passed supporting universal health care. One resolution supported universal health care as the only solution to our nation’s health care crisis. Another supported SPAN, the Single Payer Action Network, the grassroots campaign in Ohio to get a universal health care bill on the Ohio ballot, as well as UHCAN, the Universal Health Care Action Network. The third resolution supported HR 676, the Conyers/Kucinich Medicare for All bill, which would set up a universal health care system nationally.

Two other resolutions — one calling for the rapid end to U.S. occupation of Iraq, the other for supporting the building of an Ohio labor-led peace movement — also passed unanimously, with numerous delegates speaking in support.