Worst Week in Washington

This week's winner: organized labor

By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, June 13, 2010

In politics, as in sports, success is measured by wins and losses. Moral victories are usually claimed by those on the wrong end of the score.

Witness Tuesday's Democratic Senate runoff in Arkansas. Left for dead after the state's May 18 primary, Sen. Blanche Lincoln defied the odds by claiming her party's nod.

While her opponent on the ballot was Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, it was widely acknowledged among political insiders -- and some outsiders, too -- that Lincoln was really running against national organized labor.

Labor with a capital L -- and, for this exercise, consisting of the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) -- had grown sick of the incumbent's apostasy on the Employee Free Choice Act and the health-care public option and decided to make an example of her.

That included roughly $10 million in television ads slamming Lincoln for having gone Washington (the horror!). One ad showed a picture of her large house in the D.C. suburbs as evidence of her Potomac fever.

In the final days before the runoff, some labor leaders semi-openly celebrated their expected victory, saying no moderate Democrat would dare stray from unions on high-profile issues in the future.

Then Lincoln won.

Afterward, labor officials insisted that they had triumphed by losing -- that putting such a scare into Lincoln would ensure fealty to their agenda by other moderates in her mold. Maybe. But labor played to win, not to narrowly lose.

In a week when Washington Nationals fans were the clear winners -- thank you, Stephen Strasburg! -- national unions found themselves on the other end of the spectrum. Organized labor, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail chris.cillizza@wpost.com with your nominees.

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