By the time election day rolls around on Nov. 3, some 24,000 households in a key Los Angeles County Assembly district will have gotten six pieces of campaign mail and received two get-out-the-vote telephone calls, all from a single source. Most likely, a volunteer will have shown up on their doorsteps as well.
This particular blitz is not originating from the campaign headquarters of either of the two major candidates in the 56th Assembly District, although part of its aim is to help Sally Havice (D-Cerritos) fight off a strong challenge from Republican Phil Hawkins.
The source is the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, which has made the Havice-Hawkins contest a top priority in its broader goals of ensuring that Democrats keep control of the state Legislature, seeing Gray Davis elected governor and, to a somewhat lesser extent, sending Democrats to Congress.
Organized labor's finely honed electioneering--all directed at union families who are registered to vote--is at work in the Los Angeles area's hottest contests for Assembly and congressional seats. The efforts reflect a shift in political strategy--to take a more direct role in contested elections--begun about two years ago by labor leaders both nationally and locally.
Labor's refocused efforts come against the backdrop of President Clinton's sex scandal and its potential effect on election day. A strong turnout of union voters, historically overwhelmingly Democratic, could make the difference in close races by countering a low turnout by Democrats turned off by the scandal or a high turnout by Republicans eager to punish the president.
"It's a good strategy," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "Republicans are motivated voters, so it behooves Democrats to mobilize their voters. . . . If there's a low turnout, Republicans will win."
How Clinton's problems will play out in local races is anybody's guess. Republicans, seeing a rise in their polls in some races, think it will help them. But in some districts voters don't seem to care about it, strategists say, and Democrats are predicting a backlash against the House GOP leadership that is pushing for the president's impeachment.
Jim Terry, co-campaign manager of Hawkins' campaign to oust Havice from the 56th Assembly District seat that he once held himself, said voters in this conservative southeast county district are indeed turned off by the Clinton affair.
"It comes up a lot in our precinct walks and in personal conversations," Terry said. "We find that people are very upset about Clinton's actions, not just about what took place [with intern Monica Lewinsky] but also by his [initial] denials."
But a few miles away, in the 36th Congressional District race, Republican Steve Kuykendall is not hearing--or saying--much about the matter, campaign manager Renee Orifice said.
"You just don't know what [voters] are going to do. . . . That's why we're sticking to the issues," Orifice said.
Becki Ames, who is managing Democrat George Nakano's campaign in the overlapping 53rd Assembly District, said a focus group the campaign did about a week ago showed "the Clinton thing doesn't matter in this district."
County labor federation chief Miguel Contreras said the local umbrella group is spending a record $1 million in this fall's elections.
That amount includes extensive field operations in East Los Angeles aimed at 110,000 new Latino voters and in South Central Los Angeles, where organizers are trying to mobilize 65,000 mainly African American members on the voter registration rolls.
In addition, the federation, through its Committee on Political Action, is sending at least four election mailings to all its members throughout the county and telephoning each of its registered voters twice. This is all part of the federation's effort to deliver 245,000 new or casual voters to Democratic governor candidate Gray Davis.
In the county's closest races, the federation is sending out an additional two mailings tailored to each particular contest and is walking precincts in some, such as in the top-priority 56th Assembly District.
Other districts in which union voters will get additional labor mailings aimed at electing Democrats include Assembly districts 43 and 44, in the San Gabriel Valley, where Republicans are trying to take back seats from first-term Democrats. The extra mail also will go to Democrats in the open 53rd and 54th Assembly districts in the South Bay and Long Beach areas, as well as in the 60th and 61st district races on the eastern edge of the county, said Fabian Nunez, the federation's political director.
"Our first priority is to keep what we've got," Nunez said. "We don't want to send the wrong message to Democrats in marginal seats that we don't want to be there for them."