GOP says labor wasted money in bid for Democratic majority But most of 17 Republicans who lost were union targets

Election 1996


Republicans declared unequivocal victory yesterday in their yearlong war with organized labor, asserting that AFL-CIO leaders had gambled $35 million of their rank and file's money on winning a Democratic majority in Congress and lost.

The labor leaders countered that they had no regrets, asserting that they had demonstrated their political clout, pushed the debate to the center and beaten enough Republicans to blunt the unstinting conservatism of the House.

Gerald McEntee, who headed the labor federation's campaign to regain a House Democratic majority, declared in an interview, "He is still the speaker of the House, but I can say this: The Gingrich revolution is over."

McEntee added, "I think everyone realizes we're at least a factor in American politics now, and we've not been a factor for a long, long time."

But Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, contended in an interview:

"This isn't one of those things where there's an in-between. At the end of the season, you win or you lose, and they lost."

Republican leaders acknowledged that the AFL-CIO won some battles on Election Day; most of the 17 House Republicans who lost were major targets of labor's campaign.

But Paxon argued that "the majority of their targets were re-elected," including Reps. J. D. Hayworth of Arizona, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho and Greg Ganske of Iowa.

Paxon also asserted that union leaders would face some tough questions from members over the efficacy of the yearlong effort, which ranged from intensive advertising to a broad get-out-the-vote campaign.

"I don't think they got a thing for their investment," Paxon said. Republicans asserted that the unions spent far more than $35 million in the campaign.

Republican leaders carefully dismissed the notion that they would punish labor for its effort in the next Congress, asserting that their party might be disgusted with the "union bosses" but would not take it out legislatively on the rank and file.

Still, a remarkable enmity has developed between organized labor and the GOP leadership in the past 15 months, and Republicans and political analysts said some fallout was almost inevitable.

Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican from Connecticut who was not a labor target, said: "The national labor movement basically carpet-bombed a lot of good Republicans." He added, "They went for broke, they went for the whole thing, and they've made a number of enemies in the process."

Rep. Phil English of Pennsylvania, a Republican who bore the brunt of labor's campaign and survived it, said in an interview: "By taking the stance that they have, opposing people like me primarily because of my party label, not my voting record, it makes it much more difficult for them to work with what should be their natural constituency in the House."

Some analysts said unions would not fare well under a Republican majority regardless of what they did in the campaign.

"How are they going to be punished?" asked Thomas Mann, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, "They didn't have any hopes of passing a narrowly defined labor agenda in any case, even if the Democrats regained a majority."

Organized labor did, in fact, significantly increase its turnout on Election Day.

Surveys of people leaving voting places indicated that 23 percent of the total vote for the House came from union households, up from 14 percent in 1994 and 19 percent in 1992. That vote broke for the Democrats, 63 percent to 37 percent, according to those polls.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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