Hey, union man

“Hey, Western Union man,” Jerry Butler sang in his great 1968 number 1 r & b hit, “send a telegram…” Adapted slightly, it could be the theme song of Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s Democratic primary campaign against incumbent Blanche Lincoln. “We’re sending a message here,” according to Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. “Our members have had it — not just in Arkansas, they have had it across this country.”
The New York Times reports on the astounding effort by Big Labor to send a message to Lincoln and her Democratic colleagues through Halter: “They have knocked on 170,000 doors, made 700,000 phone calls, sent 2.7 million pieces of mail and spent almost $6 million on television and radio advertising.”
This in a state where the union work force makes up only about 47,000 of Arkansas’s 1.1 million workers. The Times adds that union leaders say labor’s voting power is augmented by union spouses and retirees. Still, Arkansas is unlikely territory for a straightforward union message. It’s the money and the muscle that matter, powered by a message that has more in common with the Tea Party than the union label: “Union advertisements have accused Mrs. Lincoln of being a Washington insider who takes Wall Street money and rarely comes back to Arkansas.”
The Times quotes a Republican consultant on the union advertising campaign against Lincoln: “I can say that the ads, the messaging and the continuity of the messaging and the impact of the S.E.I.U. and other labor ads have been nothing short of brilliant,” he said. “Bill Halter has been positioned as a Washington outsider, and Blanche Lincoln has been unable to portray him as a liberal accepting liberal support. It’s a colossal mistake on her part.”
Lincoln’s offense against Big Labor is made up of the few votes she has cast trying to salvage a viable candidacy in a battleground state where Obama has tanked. Reading the Times article, one wonders: Do the unions think that Halter will be a stronger candidate than Lincoln in the general election? Bill Clinton supports Lincoln. The Times quotes him suggesting that the union campaign against Lincoln may not be a model of honesty. It’s a quote that puts one in mind of the paradox posed by the Cretan philosopher who held that all Cretans are liars.
How does Halter stand to do in the general election against a Republican candidate in a difficult year for Democrats? AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said unions were confident Halter would prevail against the Republican Senate candidate in the general election because Arkansas is a heavily Democratic state. That’s why Obama carried the state against McCain in 2008, right? Not. (McCain crushed Obama.)
The element of the excellent Times story that caught my eye was the photograph above. It captures something important. The hefty gentleman supporting Bill Halter and wearing the t-shirt supporting socialized medicine seeks to send a message slightly different than the one publicly advertised.

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