In Arkansas, dissatisfied labor unions worked hard against Lincoln

Wednesday, May 19, 2010; A06

Willie Holmes moved to Arkansas last year to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) on the union membership bill known as "card check." He lost, but he stayed to sway her vote on health care.

That did not go his way, either, but Holmes is still here. On Tuesday, he sat with four colleagues in the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 155 union hall and waited for the votes to roll in. He was hoping that, this time, Lincoln would fall.

Holmes is a field director for Working America, an AFL-CIO operation that played a big role in keeping Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) competitive with Lincoln, a well-known and well-financed incumbent.

"If people say they're voting for Blanche Lincoln," Holmes said, "we try to change their mind."

Working America started eight weeks ago with six organizers. At its peak, the group sent 45 paid workers a day to knock on doors, Holmes said. In all, the group spoke to about 90,000 people in 27 towns and sent 1.75 million pieces of pro-Halter mail.

A pairing of the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America reached an additional 85,400 prospective voters who agreed to discuss the Senate campaign, said Jon Youngdahl, SEIU national political director.

SEIU, which has only 1,000 members in the state, spent more than $1.5 million, including a $1 million television buy, Youngdahl said. The national AFL-CIO spent $3 million or more on Halter's behalf, spokesman Eddie Vale said.

The effort was fruitful: Lincoln and Halter are heading to a June 8 runoff.

That pleased Halter, who said Tuesday evening that his campaign was "on the way to a very, very good night."

"Three weeks from today," Halter said, "we're going to finish the job."

-- Peter Slevin

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