A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dem presidential race tighter than assumed

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., March 3, 4 or 5

As this is written, voters in 11 states and American Samoa are voicing preferences in the “Super Tuesday” Democratic primary contests, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign is dismissing challenger Bernie Sanders as dead in the water. But his political obituary could mark a premature burial.

Sanders’ dramatic rise in the Democratic race is reminiscent of previous “insurrections” in the party, from Sens. Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968 and Sen. George McGovern’s 1972 surprise nomination to Jesse Jackson’s exciting effort in 1988 and Barack Obama’s successful candidacy in 2008.

True, former Secretary of State Clinton won Iowa caucus (but finishing just 0.3 percent better than Sanders), but she lost New Hampshire, 38.3 to Sanders’ 60. Despite Sanders being favored by 55 percent of women voters and 96 percent of New Hampshire voters who thought he was more trustworthy, this month may be a challenge for the 74-year-old democratic socialist. Clinton barely won Nevada’s low-turnout caucus and had a strong victory in South Carolina. Ahead are 21 Democratic votes, on March 5, 6, 8, 12 and 15 (when Illinois will vote).

Polls show Sanders having improved from trailing Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin in December to a lead nationally. Fox News shows Sanders ahead of Clinton 47 to 44 percent, and Reuters has Sanders with 41.7 percent to Clinton’s 35.5.

The “slam dunk” of Clinton’s candidacy is blocked, but her original “inevitability” unfortunately attracted early endorsements from unions including the UFCW, Teachers, Machinists, Laborers, Carpenters and SEIU, whereas Sanders has fewer union endorsements, topped by National Nurses United, Postal Workers, United Electrical Workers, and the Communications Workers, plus Locals and Labor Councils. Many influential unions – Steelworkers, Auto Workers, Teamsters, IBEW, Firefighters and UNITE HERE – have not endorsed, and neither has the AFL-CIO.

Sanders’ rallies outdraw even GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, as 7,100 people came to Sanders’ recent Kansas City, Mo., event and 9,000 to a rally in Tulsa. And the grassroots “Labor for Bernie” network has more than 10,000 activists working for him.

“Labor for Bernie reports that the greatest volunteer enthusiasm has come from members of the IBEW, AFT, UAW, NEA, Teamsters and SEIU,” says reporter David Moberg, a Galesburg native who writes for In These Times magazine, “plus many workers from building-trades unions who are often assumed to be politically more conservative than leading industrial and service unions.”

Some progressives seem torn: anxious to win and afraid to lose. Indeed, given the Republican field – all of whom have opposed organized labor in some way – everyday working people seem to have few choices.

Mark Gruenberg of Press Associates Union News Service said, “If one party and its nominee – the Republicans – writes workers off, that frees the other party and its nominee – the Democrats – to take workers for granted. Being written off is a danger. You wind up either voting for a candidate who may desert you after winning the White House, or you don’t vote at all because the other party’s hopeful hates you.”

Sanders’ candidacy at least has sparked discussion and ignited Clinton and surrogates to address issues, from income inequality and student debt to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and Wall Street.

Besides unions, Sanders’ endorsements are increasing, from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and filmmaker Spike Lee to recording artist Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), from actor Danny Glover and former NAACP president Ben Jealous to combat veteran and U.S. Sen. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who Monday resigned from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Sanders.

Still, some people are afraid of losing the nomination, or worse. Bill Fletcher, the AFL-CIO’s first African-American education director, now with Labor for Bernie, said that many African-American leaders he’s talked to “feel the Bern” but don’t want to get burned picking a loser.

“The people I speak with are in general in favor of Sanders, but they don’t know whether he is likely to win so they don’t whether it’s ... worth taking the risk,” Fletcher said.

But Sanders, relying on small donations, has the resources to press on, hoping for good showings in Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, followed by Nebraska, Kansas and Maine, then Michigan, Ohio and Illinois, and eventually California and New York.

“Worst case, we’re going to Philadelphia with 1,500 delegates [out of 2,383 needed],” said former CWA president Larry Cohen, who joined Sanders’ campaign after leaving his union post. “We’re going to change things.”

[PICTURED: Screen grab from Reuters Polling Explorer -]

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