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Labor group eyes state races in 2014

One of the nation's foremost organized labor groups plans to emphasize state-level elections in 2014, regarding the path for Democrats to retake control of the House as "steep."

The AFL-CIO's political director told reporters at a briefing on Thursday that the union would emphasize gubernatorial and state legislative elections next fall.

"There's no question that we're going to be putting more resources into states governors and state legislature races than we have in the past," said Michael Podhorzer, the labor group's top political official.

The focus won't come at the exclusion of efforts to help Democrats win in Congress. But four years after the 2010 elections swept to power a series of Republicans who would enact sweeping collective bargaining reforms, state-level races are at a premium.

"Right now, the Republicans are moving ferociously anti-worker, anti-women's health agendas … in the states," Podhorzer said.

Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Scott Walker of Wisconsin were elected during 2010's GOP wave, in spite of the centrist or slightly-Democratic tenor of their states. Each of those governors eventually sought major reforms to union laws despite ferocious opposition from organized labor; Walker was challenged with a recall election that he eventually survived.

All three of those governors remain relatively formidable incumbents heading into 2014, but are likely to face stiff opposition from Democrats and their allies — like organized labor — next year.

"And his victory in the recall election had much more to do with the fact that there was a portion of the electorate that didn't believe in recalls.

"I think it's a little early to tell what the opposition is going to look like, but I think we're just going to have to wait and see how that race develops," Podhorzer said when asked whether Walker was beatable.

The AFL-CIO is banking on the unlikelihood that Republicans won't be able to count on the 2014 electorate resembling the more conservative-leaning makeup of the voting public in 2010. As immigration reform falters on Capitol Hill, Podhorzer argued that the 2014 electorate could even tend toward Democrats, especially as Latinos who are embittered by the failure of comprehensive immigration reform extract a toll on Republicans.

"We think the success they had in 2010 … reflected a set of circumstances that aren't going to repeat themselves," he said.

But Podhorzer also acknowledged that the 2010 elections — which also saw Republican dominance in state legislative races — helped the GOP shape the decennial, Census-mandated redistricting process to their benefit.

"There's no doubt that it has made it a much steeper hill for Democrats to take control of the House," Podhorzer said of the advantages Republicans locked in for themselves through redistricting.

The AFL-CIO also views the states as one of the few areas in which Republicans have been successful in enacting the party's agenda, necessitating organized labor's emphasis in 2014.

"From the very beginning, the strategy they've evolved to due to their challenges with the presidential year electorate is to stop everything at the federal level, push their ALEC/Koch agenda in the states," Podhorzer said.