“And do you feel Mitt Romney is going to be more effective?” Gordon responded gently. “Well, I don’t know,” Barina said. “He scares me, too. He doesn’t understand people like us, how we live.”
Gordon works for the American Federation of Teachers in Buffalo, and she’s in Ohio as part of an effort to bolster Obama, partly by taking advantage of new rules that allow union members to more aggressively go after non-union voters.
Best known for opening a new spigot of anonymous corporate giving in elections, the Supreme Court’s
Citizens United v. FEC
decision in 2010 also allowed labor unions to use their general treasury cash, including dues, to reach out to all voters, not just union members. In Ohio, the list of potential voters whom the AFL-CIO will reach out to in the last month before the election has nearly doubled, from 1.2 million in 2008 to 2 million this year.
Union officials hope their new freedom will prove especially potent in Ohio, where a year ago voters repealed a new law pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that would have restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, including police officers, firefighters and teachers.
The 62 to 38 percent referendum vote — a surprisingly lopsided figure in a state with a history of razor-thin election margins — came after the AFL-CIO waged an all-out battle against Kasich and the law, in the process building a massive list of non-members who seemed friendly to their positions.
“We had nine months last year to educate,” said Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO. “It really opened some eyes in the state of Ohio — not just inside of labor but with the general public — about what’s happened to the Republican Party, that it’s been taken over by extremists.”
The unions have also worked to capitalize on state support for the federal bailout of GM and Chrysler, a popular issue in Ohio, which is home to key auto parts manufacturers.
Those issues, combined with the Citizens United ruling, help explain why Obama has held a steady lead in Ohio, union leaders say, even as the race has fluctuated some on the national level.
A new poll released Tuesday by CNN/ORC showed Obama maintaining a four-percentage point lead, 51 to 47, in Ohio at the same time Romney has moved ahead in a handful of national surveys.
Ohio Republicans believe there will be little carryover from the 2011 collective-bargaining fight to this year’s election. Last year’s vote was a state issue, they argue.
More important for predicting this year’s outcome was a federal initiative on the same ballot, when Ohioans voted 66 percent to 34 percent to send a message of opposition to Obama’s health-care law by declaring that the law’s insurance-purchase mandate shouldn’t be legal in the state.