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Posted: Jul 31, 2014

Did Bellows receive a ‘unanimous’ endorsement from the AFL-CIO? Yes — and no

Open Season

Democrat Shenna Bellows' statement that she received a “unanimous” endorsement from a major labor union is drawing criticism from Republicans in the latest battle for the "working class" vote.

But as so frequently happens in politics, where things are rarely as black or white as campaigns portray them, there’s an element of truth in both sides’ claims.

Republicans’ latest salvo against Bellows – who is running to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins – is that she fibbed when she told attendees at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Detroit that, “I received the unanimous endorsement of the AFL/CIO.”

Bellows did, indeed, receive the Maine AFL-CIO’s endorsement at the state convention of the labor federation. But David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, correctly pointed out that several local unions within the labor federation known as the AFL-CIO have endorsed Collins.

For instance, Collins has been endorsed by the Local S6 and S7 chapters of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers that represent thousands of shipyard workers at Bath Iron Works.

"It’s impossible to receive a ‘unanimous’ endorsement when significant portions of the group have endorsed your opponent," Sorensen said in an email that included a link to a video of Bellows’ comments at the Netroots conference. Sorensen then called on Bellows to "immediately set the record straight and recant her false statement."

So who is right?

Matt Schlobohm with the Maine AFL-CIO explained Thursday that a candidate needs support from two-thirds of the voting representatives at convention to secure an endorsement.

“There was clearly two-thirds support for Bellows among convention delegates and the votes they represented,” Schlobohm said. “The other unions [supporting Collins] elected to abstain in the final voice vote.”

In other words, Bellows did receive unanimous support during the voice vote but only because the minority pro-Collins crowd kept quiet. Schlobohm's account of the vote was confirmed by Jay Wadleigh, president of the the Local S6 at BIW that endorsed Collins, who said his union made its position clear at the committee level but opted to abstain in the end "instead of making a big show."

This is pretty common in politics, business or any other setting in which organizations want to present a united front on an issue, even if things are not quite so harmonious behind the scenes.

But is it inaccurate to call such votes unanimous? That’s obviously open to debate.

The Bellows campaign dismissed the attack.

"I think they are worried because we have very, very strong labor support and support from workers," said campaign spokesman Adam Sarvana. "There is a Karl Rove strategy out there that you attack a candidate's strengths."

This is the second instance in which Republicans tried to debunk Bellows' assertion that she is the best person to represent the interests of Maine's blue-collar workers. Last week, the Bellows campaign felt the need to re-shoot a few seconds of video in a television ad after Republicans criticized her for using stock footage of a non-Maine worker in the original version.

Republicans do seem to be spending more time targeting Bellows these days despite earlier polls showing her trailing Collins by large margins.

One possible reason for the increased attention is that Bellows has generated quite a few headlines across the state for her 350-mile “Walk Across Maine for Jobs and the Economy.” Bellows is roughly halfway through her trek, which is modeled after one undertaken by Republican William Cohen during his 1972 bid for Congress.

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