In most congressional races around the country, it wouldn’t be a big shock to find the Republican campaigning against “big labor,” as Matt Doheny has done in New York’s 21st district.
Doheny’s camp has made unions a big issue in August, arguing that Democratic incumbent Bill Owens is “beholden to big labor” and has “taken votes that threaten to kill American manufacturing jobs.
“Labor unions have poured $513,450 into Bill Owens’ campaign coffers, including $91,500 before he took a single vote,” said Matt Doheny, the Republican, Independence and Conservative candidate in the 21st Congressional District.
“In turn, my opponent is repaying that generosity by voting to protect the interests of labor leadership.”
The issue has caught some traction, with the Glens Falls Post Star headlining a story “Doheny slams Owens on labor issues.”
“These are labor leaders tied with (President Barack) Obama that my opponent marches in lockstep with,” Doheny told the paper.
The Post Star noted that in one week, Doheny’s campaign issued three separate press releases, slamming Owens for his union ties.
What’s interesting is how different this is from the typical line taken by Republicans seeking office in the North Country.
The last GOP congressman to hold the region’s House seat, John McHugh, regularly sought and received the endorsement of big labor unions.
Former Republican assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, from Gouverneur, is married to Ron McDougall, head of the Central Trades and Labor Council, which reportedly has 24,000 union members in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties.
The union representing prison guards in the North Country, NYSCOPBA, has also been among the largest contributors to the campaign war chest of Republican state Senator Betty Little from Queensbury.
Doheny’s decision to take a more traditional Republican line, campaigning against labor, may reflect a simple political reality: unions seem fairly locked in to their backing of Owens. Labor volunteers and donors played a big part in his narrow victories in 2009 and 2010.
Winning them over, or even softening their stance, would be a heavy lift; and that kind of effort might jar Conservative and tea party supporters who have swung firmly into Doheny’s camp.
Thanks in part to the big stand-off in Wisconsin, taking a hard line with unions — particularly public employee unions — has become a kind of badge of honor for Republicans.
Doheny also seems sincerely convinced that labor initiatives, including requirements that some jobs use union workers and limits on the moving of factory operations between states, are bad for the economy.
It’s unclear though how his stance will play in November. Union members in the public and private sectors make up a big chunk of the voters in the North Country, from blue collar workers in the St. Lawrence Valley to white collar school teachers in the Adirondacks.
On the other hand, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a fairly tough line with labor leaders and fared just fine politically.
In his blog, Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham questioned the GOP candidate’s strategy, praising Doheny for being a “free marketeer” but also calling the approach “risky.”
“Matt Doheny is doing something his GOP predecessors wouldn’t do,” Graham wrote.
“That is take on Big Labor. In the past, Republican pols have descended the stairs into the basement of the former Clearview Restaurant in Gouverneur to seek and usually get the endorsement of the labor bosses assembled.”
So we’ll see down the stretch how good a fit the anti-union posture is for the North Country and the 21st district.
Is Doheny tapping into a vein of anti-labor sentiment that will power him past Owens? Or is he championing a national message that’s out of sync with our region?
As always, comments welcome.