Gore Tries to “Resuscitate” Campaign on Union Front

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) were in Nashville, Tenn., the week of Dec. 13 in an effort to bolster Al Gore’s presidential campaign amid static polls and signs of trouble with organized labor. At the same time, Gore’s campaign is stepping up efforts to transform union members into foot soldiers in Iowa and N.H. in order to blunt the surprisingly strong challenge by ex-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.).

Democratic insiders said the Gore campaign is seeking to demonstrate a united front and to convey the strong support of labor officials in the wake of protests by union members in Seattle over the World Trade Org. “The timing and everything – there’s no question they’re down there to resuscitate that campaign,” one House Democratic leadership aide said.

A union official close to the situation also said Gore wants Daschle and especially Gephardt to “lean on” labor unions to put more – and more effective – political operatives on the ground in Iowa and N.H. “We’re having a lot of problems getting turnout in the early primary states,” said the labor official. “There’s a lot of pressure on the AFL-CIO to get more people in the field. It’s getting a little frantic, a little hysterical.”

While the labor movement by and large supports Gore, who received the official endorsement of the AFL-CIO in Oct., the union official said some rank-and-file members are not as enthusiastic about the Gore campaign as their leaders. Strategists believe Daschle and Gephardt may help turn that around because of their strong records on pro-labor issues. But there is still concern among union strategists that Gore is floundering and labor leaders should be careful about tying their future to him, especially if control of the House is still in play.

Gore, meanwhile, has finally stepped up his efforts to reach out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. His staff recently started a weekly meeting with top Senate Democratic aides to get on the same page about the campaign. At the Dec. 9 meeting, Gore’s aides told the staffers that they want that support to turn into appearances in Iowa and N.H. by leading House and Senate Democrats. Senior Gore aides have been holding the regular meetings with Senate staffers over the last several weeks to brief them on Gore’s schedule and brainstorm for ways to help the campaign. This represents a marked change from Clinton, who works closely with party leaders but doesn’t have strong personal ties to House and Senate Democrats. [Roll Call 12/13/99]