By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Union solidarity? Not so much for Terry McAuliffe.
Big Labor bosses are backing the Democrat in his gubernatorial race against Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Unions accounted for six of the top 15 cash donors in McAuliffe’s latest campaign report. They were the fifth and sixth biggest in-kind contributors.
But it’s not clear that rank-and-file members are as committed to McAuliffe. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, is working to peel off votes with a populist, non-corporate message.
“Our tax code should encourage middle-class families and small businesses, not reward the powerful and well-connected. Special interests shouldn’t get special treatment,” the attorney general-turned gubernatorial candidate said.
The Obamacare debacle in Washington isn’t helping McAuliffe either. An enthusiastic supporter of the program, he is now tarred with its shortcomings.
Ambivalence, or outright antagonism, toward McAuliffe was reflected in a Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday. It showed Cuccinelli pulling within 4 percentage points of the Democrat, who led by double digits in other surveys.
Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,182 likely voters Oct. 22-28 in live interviews on land lines and cell phones. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
McAuliffe’s decision to base his yet-to-be-built GreenTech Automotive plant in Mississippi took some air out of the United Auto Workers, the union’s state political director, Mike Spraker, told Watchdog.org.
UAW Local 919, for example, has mustered just $2,366 in political contributions since last year, without naming a candidate. The Norfolk local raised $57,750 during the 2008-09 cycle, according to Virginia Public Access Project records.
McAuliffe’s support of the EPA’s proposed tighter regulations on carbon emissions has not endeared him to Virginia’s coal country either.
The United Mine Workers has not raised money for McAuliffe, VPAP reported.
“People out here vote Democrat or Republican, no matter what,” said John Belcher, executive director of the Virginia Mining Association, headquartered in the southwestern coal town of Norton.
Virginia’s coal country went heavily for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, and Belcher anticipates Cuccinelli will win easily there, too.
But the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, whose members staff power plants, forgave McAuliffe for siding with the EPA in what the mining industry calls the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”
“The IBEW local unions in Virginia are supporting McAulliffe for governor and have been working on his campaign,” IBEW media director Jim Spellane told Watchdog.
The union gave McAuliffe $50,000 this month.
McAuliffe’s pledge to keep Virginia a “right-to-work” state hasn’t exactly fired up organized labor. He does, however, support collective bargaining, which is prohibited among government employees.
Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told Watchdog his local wholeheartedly backs McAuliffe. The Democrat has promised millions more dollars in K-12 funding and higher teacher salaries, without saying how he would pay for them.
“He came to us to get our perspectives on education. He was proactive in communicating with us, as educators. That’s respect, and that’s something we are missing,” Greenburg said.
“His positions on early childhood education and SOL (Standards of Learning test) reforms are better than his opponent’s, as well.”
The Fairfax union’s parent, the American Federation of Teachers, gave $125,000 to McAuliffe, according to VPAP.
Appreciating McAuliffe’s call for more government spending, his two biggest labor donors are public-sector unions: The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($300,000) and the International Firefighters Association ($250,000).
Likewise, the United Steel Workers backs McAuliffe because he “has a priority of investing in infrastructure,” such as bridges, roads and government buildings, the union’s political director, Tim Waters, told the Washington Post.
But Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, says union members don’t necessarily follow their leaders’ political choices.
“It’s not at all uncommon for 50 to 60 percent to disagree,” he told Watchdog. “Union members split the same way the public is split.”
Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward