ALBANY—In August, Larry Bulman wasn’t convinced Bill Owens would win his race to replace John McHugh in Congress.
“It’s simple: boots on the ground,” Bulman, the Saratoga County Democratic chairman and the political director for the plumbers and steamfitters union, told me over lunch. “Which means union support. That’s how we won the Murphy race, and I’m not convinced labor will be there–she’s got a lot of support in labor, and it will hurt him and I’m not sure he can win.”
Until now. With Scozzafava’s withdrawal from the race, every union in the district is now backing Bill Owens. He had earned the endorsement of some labor groups–notably SEIU 1199–but had lost some critical others, like NYSUT as well as two central labor councils, to Scozzafava. In a low-turnout special election, the GOTV operations and phone banking the unions provide are critical. Both Ron McDougall, Scozzafava’s husband, and the candidate herself are also backing Owens, but the labor support is key.
When I reached Bulman on Sunday, he said he was in Plattsburgh and that the field operations had tripled in the last 48 hours. Alan Lubin, the executive vice president of NYSUT told me that starting Sunday the phone banks had “changed our message”
“We hope to reach just about all of our members through phone calls,” Lubin said, reminding me the union has nearly 30,000 members in the district. He said the choice to support Owens over Doug Hoffman, the Republican favorite running on the Conservative Party’s line, was “easy.”
One clear reason unions are jumping is the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check, which makes it much easier for unions to organize. Both Owens and Scozzafava supported the measure, and Hoffman is an unapologetic union-basher. But the split between the two caused some major labor groups–notably the AFL-CIO–to sit on the fence. Now, according to spokesman Mario Cilento, they’re in behind Owens. All of labor is on his page.
The basic thinking is that Scozzafava’s supporters would break for Hoffman; she is the Republican nominee, and locked up traditional, loyal, partisans who would not vote for an upstart so long as their party had a nominee. But this might not be the case: if you accept the premise, as Roger Stone so eloquently put it to me, that the race has come down to a conservative and two liberals, then with one liberal dropping out, her supporters would gravitate toward the other.
“What’s she at, 21 percent?” said a longtime Republican strategist. “Of that, I’d bet 14 will go Owens and seven will go to Hoffman. Owens at 35 shows he didn’t have all of the unions, and Hoffman at 35 shows he has most of the Republican core base. She didn’t’ pull out to help Hoffman–he’s the guy who messed up her party. If he hadn’t been in the race, the Republicans would have held their noses and voted for her.”
Also, Scozzafava has now given an open endorsement of Owens. (Ed Cox, the Republican State Chairman, described this as “betrayal.”) This will hold sway with the voters in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, where the assemblywoman is personally known (and runs strongest) to voters.
However, the Republican machine in New York (such as it is) is now coalescing around Hoffman. George Pataki was the first to go on Thursday evening, but over the course of Sunday Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, Rudy Giuliani, Jefferson County Chairman Don Coon, Franklin County Chairman Jim Ellis, as well as former State Senator Ray Meier and John Faso, the party’s last gubernatorial nominee, and Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb. (Many of them had refused anything other than begrudging support of Scozzafava.) Republican leaders in Congress also promised Hoffman a spot on the Armed Services committee.
The real test Tuesday, then, will be which party’s apparatus–including all the national forces that have poured in–is better.
More on Dede Scozzafava:
The Collapse of Dede Scozzafava, Moderate Republican