Deeds Wears Union Label

One of the reasons Democrat Creigh Deeds is having a tough time gaining traction for his bid for governor in Virginia is his cozy relationship with big labor.   Deeds, just two weeks ago proclaimed to the union bosses, “When I’m governor, you won’t just have a friend in Richmond—you’ll have a partner.” And big labor has responded by spending millions on Deeds behalf.

Why Deeds?  Why in Right to Work Virginia?  Kimberley Strassel takes a look:

Last year’s Democratic victories marked a high in the political fortunes for unions. “Tonight does not simply turn a page but begins a new era for America,” bragged SEIU President Andy Stern on election night. Heady on victory and political favors from a new administration, labor turned to replicating their Washington success across the country.

Target No. 1: Virginia. The Old Dominion is the northernmost “right to work” state, and one of only two states that bar collective bargaining for state employees—issues that have long grated on organized labor. Mr. Obama’s win here nonetheless gave unions reason to hope opinions had changed. This year’s election meant a chance at another quick win. Better yet, the Democrat, Mr. Deeds, was a union man through and through. A Virginia victory would be a tactical and symbolic triumph, and pave the way into other union-skeptical states.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Virginia is instead offering evidence that the unions, in one short year, have overreached. Voters are growing uneasy, even angry, over the growing list of political favors showered on labor, and news of its unsavory connections with outfits like Acorn. Mr. Deeds’s union ties are, if anything, proving a liability in his race against Republican Bob McDonnell.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, and current Gov. Tim Kaine, both took union money, though were careful never to highlight the connection. Mr. Deeds didn’t take that precaution. In an 18-year state legislative career, he has a cumulative 92% rating on the Virginia AFL-CIO’s scorecard of votes. He’s refused to denounce national union priorities such as card check. During a rough-and-tumble Democratic primary earlier this year, he visited picketers outside a Hilton hotel.

Nor have the unions disguised their ambition of turning Virginia into a dysfunctional state like California. In the past year, organized labor has poured nearly $2 million into the Deeds campaign (only the party itself has given more). There was $900,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, $200,000 from the SEIU, and $250,000 from the Mid-Atlantic Laborers. The amounts are so big even the Washington Post took time off writing about Mr. McDonnell’s controversial graduate thesis on the role of women in society to weigh in with a raised-eyebrow story.

Yet all this has happened against the backdrop of growing public disaffection with the union movement. Big Labor has spent the past year cashing checks in Washington—Detroit auto bailouts, special perks in federal contracting, carve-outs in health-care legislation—and the public isn’t impressed. The Acorn videotape scandal, and subsequent revelations about the group’s close ties to the SEIU, was a hit to the credibility of unions overall.

In September, Gallup reported that labor had taken a “significant image hit in the past year.” For the first time in 73 years of polling on the question, only a minority of Americans approved of unions (48%)—down from nearly 60% a year ago. A majority of Americans are instead now of the opinion that unions “hurt the U.S. economy.” Approval among political independents dropped a stunning 20 points, to 44%, in just one year.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll in August suggests Virginians are similarly down on unions. Some 49% of registered Virginia voters said issues relating to unions and union organizing would be very important or extremely important to their decision for governor—though not in ways unions might wish. A full 65% said Virginia needs to keep employee unions out of state government; 54% want to keep Virginia’s bar on collective bargaining for government employees. Asked specifically about Mr. Deeds’s promise to be a “partner” to unions, 51% had a negative reaction; only 26% felt positive.

This explains why in coming days the Chamber is going up with TV ads in Virginia highlighting Mr. Deeds’ union ties. It explains why Mr. McDonnell frequently mentions his commitment to “right to work” and Mr. Deeds’s support of card check. It explains why the Virginia Republican Party made news several weeks ago in calling on Mr. Deeds to return his SEIU donations because they’re tainted by Acorn. It explains why Mr. Deeds has recently been flip-flopping on questions like collective bargaining, and why he has not been seen on a picket line lately.

Mr. Deeds has plenty going against him in this race, including his party’s unpopular Washington agenda. But the unions have clearly been more hurt than help. The fact that Big Labor’s political strength is already waning, and in a state on which it had placed such huge bets, is a story all in itself.