Why Labor Might Leave the Democrat to His Own Devices in NY-23

ALBANY—Strong support from organized labor unions was a crucial ingredient in the victory of Democrat Scott Murphy in a special House election earlier this year. How big a factor will labor be in the race to replace Representative John McHugh?

"Right now there hasn't been a whole lot of feedback as of today," said Mario Cilento, a spokesman for the New York State AFL-CIO. "Between now and Labor Day, I don't know how much that's going to change."

Democrats nominated Bill Owens as their standard bearer in the district earlier this week. Republicans have nominated Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican whose husband, Ron McDougall, is a union official. At one point, Democrats spoke with Scozzafava about bringing her onto their party's ticket. (Doug Hoffman, the Conservative nominee, is unlikely to garner union support.)

One senior labor source told me that he didn't expect labor to get heavily involved in the race, but that only with the commitment of their "boots on the ground" could a Democrat overcome a Republican enrollment advantage. Both Owens and Scozzafava support the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill backed by organized labor that will make it easier to form unions. Given the lack of a clear contrast, and Scozzafava's ties, its unclear if either candidate will get the AFL-CIO's endorsement. Cilento said that an endorsement is only granted after garnering input form union locals, then political directors, and then with a two-thirds vote of the AFL-CIO executive board.

"It would seem to me, at this point, it would be very difficult for either candidate to attain two-thirds majority support," he said. "It is certainly significant threshold for any candidate to have to reach."

The labor-backed Working Families Party has not made an endorsement in the race, and it's unclear if they will do so, back their own candidate, or do nothing. It's also unclear whether big-money unions like 1199, which spent more money on Murphy's behalf than anyone including running television ads, will get involved.