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Democratic Party (United States)

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For the past see U.S. Democratic Party, history; for recent developments see 2008 United States presidential election

The Democratic Party is one of the two major political parties in the United States, along with the U.S. Republican Party. Since 1966, it has elected Jimmy Carter president in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. It lost the other presidential contests. The Democratic Party lost control of both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections of 1994, and regained them in the mid-term elections of 2006.

In 2007 the new Democratic majority named Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, the first women to hold that position. Nevada Senator Harry Reid became Senate Majority Leader. The Democrats were unable to impede the Iraq war, and passed little significant legislation in 2007, apart from an increase in the minimum wage. Their most important bill, SCHIP to provide health insurance for children, was vetoed.

The race for the 2008 presidential nomination began much earlier than usual. New York Senator Hillary Clinton held a commanding lead in polls until early 2008, but is even in fundraising with her chief competitor Senator Barack Obama; both raised over $100 million in 2007, easily breaking the old record. Obama won the Iowa caucus (on Jan. 3, 2008) and Clinton won the New Hampshire primary (on Jan 8. 2008); they will take momentum into "Tsunami Tuesday", Feb. 5, when half the delegates will be chosen for the national convention, which meets in Denver, Aug. 25-28, 2008. The Democratic nominee will face the Republican nominee; it is also possible that billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be a third party candidate.

Clinton is the first woman to lead a presidential race; Obama is the first prominent black contender since Jesse Jackson in 1988, but the African American community is split on his candidacy. Many blacks prefer Clinton because of their admiration for her husband Bill Clinton, or because of fears Obama will be assassinated.

With the GOP in disarray and President George W. Bush unpopular outside his party, the Democrats have been leading in the polls and have outperformed the GOP in fundraising by a 2-1 ratio in 2007. Democrats expect to regain the White House and make gains in Congress. However the party remains split on foreign policy issues, especially regarding the nation's long-term role in Iraq.

Labor unions

The New Deal Coalition forged by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s dominated national politics until the mid-1960s. One key reason was the close alliance of the party with labor unions. Since the 1960s, however, union membership has fallen by 2/3. In the 1980s unions came under assault from business and the party was unable to help them. Unions in recent years have increased their activism in the election cycle, especially in terms of funding and get-out-the-vote campaigns.

In 2004 and 2006, unions spent a combined $561 million to help elect their preferred candidates (most of them Democrats). That is nearly a 50% increase over the $381 million spent on the previous two campaigns. However they are still outspent by business; in 2000, companies were responsible for three times as much spending as unions. By the 2006 election, companies and their employees spent $491 million on elections, compared with $264 million for labor unions. Labor spent $32 million on its own mailings and television and radio commercials for the 2004 and 2006 elections, a nearly fivefold jump over the previous four years. Polls show 74% of voters who belong to an AFL-CIO-affiliated union voted for the congressional candidate endorsed by their union in 2006, up from 70% in 2004 and 68% in 2002.[1]

The AFL-CIO, the biggest federation of U.S. unions, in August 2007 freed its 55 member unions to make their own recommendations in the presidential race.

In September 2007, Edwards won the endorsement of the carpenters' union, giving him the support of unions representing more than 1.8 million members and retirees, more than any other candidate. Edwards picked up the backing of the United Steelworkers, which calls itself the largest U.S. private-sector industrial union with 1.2 million members and retirees, and the United Mine Workers of America, which represents 105,000 active and retired coal miners. the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, with about 720,000 active and retired members, made its first-ever dual endorsement when it backed Democrat Clinton and Republican Huckabee. Huckabee also was endorsed by the New Hampshire teachers' union, while Clinton won the backing of the American Federation of Teachers representing 1.4 million teachers and school employees and United Transportation Union, with 125,000 active and retired members. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who dropped out after the Iowa caucuses, won the endorsement of the 280,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters, a public-sector union. Obama was endorsed by the Culinary Workers union in Nevada, which organized 60,000 workers in hotels and casinos, but Clinton had the support of several smaller unions in Nevada.

Notes

  1. Brody Mullins, "Labor Makes Big Comeback In '08 Races; Ramping Up Spending, Unions Get Voters to Polls; The Battle in Nevada; Wall Street Journal Jan. 18, 2008