Politics

GOP Scooping Up Big Labor in Ohio

Durability of populist appeal shows in Portman success with unions — Trump could be next

A Republican candidate steps up for American manufacturers, denounces unfair trade practices by China, opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, advocates for embattled coal miners — and is pro-cop.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, facing a tough re-election battle, is not exactly what you envision as a Trump Republican. The former Office of Management and Budget director for President George W. Bush in many ways epitomizes Establishment Republicans. Despite that, he is making major inroads into the organized labor vote in one of the fiercest battleground states in the nation.

The mere fact that powerful organized labor groups are comfortable backing the Republicans in a competitive Senate race says a lot about Ohio’s political atmosphere and the potency of Trump’s appeal to working-class voters.

On Wednesday, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 18 — representing over 15,000 workers — became the fourth labor union to back Portman. The others were the United Mine Workers of America, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, and Ohio’s Teamsters. Combined, organizations representing 100,000 unionized employees in the Buckeye State are supporting the Republican Senate candidate. Moreover, these unions previously endorsed Portman’s opponent, former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

“This is an advantage for Portman that previous Republicans haven’t had,” Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political science professor, told LifeZette. “The FOP and the craft unions have been going Republican. … There is a gap between the union leadership on the national stage and the rank and file. Most unions will support Hillary Clinton, but a lot of unsettled members will still be for Trump.”

Four years ago, President Barack Obama won the state with 56 percent of the union vote, Beck said, which is not as high as unions had backed Democrats in the past.

Recent polls show presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a dead heat for the 18 electoral votes in Ohio. If anything, Trump’s “America First” agenda could appeal to unions even more than Portman.

“Ohio has a large number of working-class voters and Trump has been even with Clinton in recent polls there,” Ron Bonjean, a former chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference, told LifeZette. “Union endorsements for a Republican could help up and down the ticket.”

[lz_jwplayer video=”hBYZ8MdR” ads=”true”]

The Portman endorsements could trickle up — with union support for the Republican presidential ticket. Or maybe it’s an unspoken trickling down from a presidential nominee who has set out to redefine the GOP base.

In March, an AFL-CIO affiliate did canvassing of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, finding massive support for Trump among blue-collar voters, The Huffington Post reported in “Donald Trump’s Working-Class Appeal is Starting to Freak Out Unions.”

“Trump is such a different kind of candidate and so many Republicans are running their own races, it’s unclear how he’ll affect the down ticket,” said Bonjean, now a partner in the public relations firm Rokk Solutions in Washington, D.C. “Now they’re unsure what he’ll say next. But, if he can provide a winning message by October, candidates might coalesce around it. The impact will depend on the candidates and the states.”

Another union that Hillary Clinton will have a tough time snatching is from the police.

Both presidential candidates oppose TPP, but Trump has made tackling bad trade deals central to his campaign from the beginning. Clinton’s opposition seemed far more calculated — particularly since she once championed being the deal’s architect.

Portman’s opposition to TPP is one reason the 50,000-strong Ohio Conference of Teamsters is backing him over Strickland, whom the union endorsed for governor in 2006 and 2010.

Ohio is also coal country, which has been under assault by the Obama administration. Clinton said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” and later apologized for it. Not surprisingly, Strickland didn’t denounce the comments and Portman did. The UMWA National Council of Coal Miners Political Action Committee is backing Portman.

The union hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate since causing turmoil in the ranks over backing Barack Obama in 2008. The group endorsed neither Obama nor Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.

[lz_related_box id=”180347″]

Another union that Hillary Clinton will have a tough time snatching is from the police. The Democratic National Convention gave a podium for the anti-cop Black Lives Matter movement. By contrast, Trump has made it clear he’s pro-cop, and says he’ll be a “law and order president.”

Ohio’s FOP is backing Portman for being pro-cop on a number of fronts. He sponsored legislation to ensure that families of police officers that died in duty from heat stroke or hypothermia get their benefits, and was an original co-sponsor of a law that notified the public whenever a police officer is injured or killed in the line of duty, as a way to more quickly identify the suspect.

Strickland of course has a big lead with more than 30 union endorsements, including the backing of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, the United Auto Workers, the AFL-CIO, and the American Federation of Teachers.

And, make no mistake — if Trump gets any union endorsements, Clinton will still get the bulk. Union leadership is embedded in the Democratic Establishment. But the mere fact that powerful organized labor groups are comfortable backing the Republicans in a competitive Senate race says a lot about Ohio’s political atmosphere and the potency of Trump’s appeal to working-class voters.

Join the Discussion

Comments are currently closed.