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AFL-CIO takes aim at John McCain

March 12, 2008 | 12:32 pm

The AFL-CIO is planning to spend $53 million on the 2008 presidential campaign, and it won't be for John McCain. In fact, the labor group launched a website today devoted to the "truth" about McCain, including a briefing book on its characterization of his stances on labor and working-class issues.

A kitty that big should be a formidable presence in a national political campaign. But unions' sway with__180x200_mccain1_2 their members isn't what it once was. And while union backing, almost always for Democratic candidates, gives access to phone banks, precinct walkers and other nuts-and-bolts aspects of campaigning, the AFL-CIO's help in the last couple of presidential cycles hasn't delivered a win.

Four years ago, the AFL-CIO ponied up $44 million to back John Kerry over George Bush, and in 2000 spent $41 million trying to get Al Gore elected. Already in this cycle, Barack Obama had the backing of the Culinary Arts Workers union, Nevada's largest, and still lost there to Hillary Clinton. And the Teamsters endorsement didn't help him much in Ohio, either.

Union folks can make the argument that labor spending on political campaigns is dwarfed by spending from business interests. But still, when you're spending the equivalent of a CEO's annual earnings on a presidential campaign, you really ought to be claiming more success.

So file this under the "couldn't hurt" column, but don't look for it to be make-or-break. And the big issue looming on the horizon is, if Obama wins the nomination, what does he do about the inevitable ad spending on his behalf by the kinds of "special interests" against which he rails so often?

-- Scott Martelle