Labor’s losing SD7 strategy: Send union members to a district that hates them

Polling showed the Seventh District were more
than just not into labor unions.

STATE SENATE | DISTRICT 7 | Legions of clipboard-toting labor Democrats say they blanketed the State Senate Seventh District battleground just days before before Tuesday election. Five hundred campaign volunteers talked up their candidate, Susan Bonilla, from Pittsburg to Livermore, stumping for her and passing out campaign brochures. The sheer number of volunteers is what a candidate expects to receive from labor when they are willing to espouse support for the working person. You typically get that and more when your opponent is viewed as the anti-Christ to the labor movement.

However, labor may have been so angry at fellow Democrat Steve Glazer that they stopped thinking straight because in this moderate district the same group fanning out across Contra Costa County and the Tri Valley in Alameda County was viewed by voters as the problem.

Take note of last Friday’s KPIX/SurveyUSA poll that showed Glazer leading Bonilla by 10 points with just days before the election and which turned out to be quite accurate. But dig further down and you will find why having a few volunteers backed by labor knocking of someone’s door in Walnut Creek isn’t going to yield the pot of votes Bonilla needed to overtake Glazer.

When respondents were asked the basic question of whether they support the right of BART workers to strike, a resounding 60 percent said no, while only 30 percent said yes. When the query is connected to the views of each candidate, Glazer believed transit workers should no longer retain the right to strike, while Bonilla supported the status quo, unsurprisingly Glazer comes out on top.

With Tuesday night’s result come some serious questions for not only labor, but the Democratic leadership in both counties. Although, the moderate Rep. Eric Swalwell is not necessarily viewed as a problem in the 15th Congressional District, his election replaced a strong progressive steeped in the labor movement. What followed is much worse: Republican Catharine Baker won in the 16th Assembly District last fall over another strongly-backed labor candidate, Tim Sbranti. Now, with Glazer’s big win, the mission creep of non-progressive elected officials in the outer East Bay has hit a critical stage. In this new world,if you’re a moderate, and there are many who might feel personally more comfortable as one, you now have a fully tested strategy for victory outside of accepting support from labor unions.

So, what should labor have done instead? Without a change in the narrative or credible bombshell since the March primary, labor’s hands were tied. If you want to tone down the strategy of sending young labor volunteers into unfriendly neighborhoods, then you might choose to focus on plastering Bonilla all over the local media and social media sites.

In addition, we never saw Bonilla act like the voice of her own campaign. Of course, you could argue the stakes in this election for Bonilla were minimal. She still holds her Assembly seat and could force a rematch next year for the same seat. But it’s more than that. Her public presence was so poor that it’s almost amazing she has held some many different public offices. Furthermore, linking moderates to rightwing nuts, such as the Tea Party and the Koch Brothers does not work in this area. It didn’t work for Pete Stark against Swalwell. didn’t work against Baker and it weirdly emboldens conservatives to embrace a candidate like Glazer.

Another question is why didn’t Bonilla’s campaign strike at the heart of Glazer’s real strength, his consistent pledge of being non-partisan? The reality of Glazer’s oath is the likelihood his effectiveness would be neutered in a political no-man’s land in Sacramento. Democrats would loathe him and Republicans would harbor significant distrust towards him. Bonilla and labor tried this gambit to some extent, but it didn’t cut through the noise of mailers and news articles over money in the race and it didn’t have a story. Why didn’t Bonilla show exactly what being non-partisan meant? It might mean legislators huddled in a conversation abruptly cutting short their chat when Glazer shows up, or Glazer sit alone in a packed cafeteria, or a still of Glazer standing alone in front of the capitol with a sad tear running down his cheek.

But, the main structural problem in Bonilla’s campaign is that she learned nothing from Sbranti’s disappointing loss to Baker, a race that also included Glazer in the June Primary. Nobody in the Democratic Party supporting Bonilla or labor thought to change the subject of the race from BART strikes that occurred almost two years ago and affect very few at this very moment? This has always been Glazer’s calling card and even when it failed for him, he allowed Baker to co-opt his message to victory in the 16th Assembly District. Voters in this area appeared to like the message from a true conservative rather than a moderate. This time around, though, these practical groups of voters saw Glazer as the Baker of this race and Bonilla as Sbranti.

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