One week after her opponent began running television ads, Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ campaign hit the airwaves with her own commercial that appears aimed squarely at a traditional Democratic base: Maine’s labor unions.
In her first ad of the 2014 election, Collins turned to workers and labor leaders at Bath Iron Works to make the pitch for her. All four unions at BIW – Local S6 International Association of Machinists, Local S7, the Bath Marine Draftsmen Association and the Independent Guards Association – endorsed Collins in April.
While Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows has the backing of more unions, the BIW unions' endorsement of Collins was a major "get" for the campaign and a first for a Republican candidate at least in recent memory, union officials said at the time. BIW is one of Maine’s largest private employers, with more than 5,400 workers, so it’s certainly not surprising the campaign chose the shipyard for its inaugural ad.
“If it weren’t for Susan Collins we wouldn’t have this work at Bath Iron Works,” Don Bilodeau, president of the Maine State Council of Machinists, said in the 60-second ad.
“Susan Collins has fought for us and fought for our jobs and contracts at the shipyard. And that is why we are going to fight for her,” said Ryan Jones, a machinist at BIW.
By touting her support at BIW, Collins is also attempting to bolster her credentials as a cross-party candidate while tapping into many Mainers’ pride about having one of the world’s premier defense-related shipyards in their backyard. BIW builds Navy destroyers.
As I laid out in a previous Open Season blog post on the BIW endorsement, Collins has been in a position to influence Navy shipbuilding decisions and congressional funding for new ships. She sits on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, which helps decide how and where the Pentagon spends its money, and was until last year a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
BIW’s corporate owner, General Dynamics, has donated $10,000 to Collins through the company’s political action committee since her last election in 2008, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The Bellows’ campaign, in addition to pointing out that the Democrat has received more union endorsements, has questioned Collins’ support for organized labor and for workers’ rights. They have also said they expect to receive a substantial number of votes from individual workers at BIW.
"I'm proud to have attracted very strong labor endorsements in this race, and I'll be a consistent voice for workers in the U.S. Senate,” Bellows said in a written response to the ad. “My opponent, Republican Susan Collins, opposes raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and votes regularly against granting collective bargaining rights to working people. I stand by working Mainers every day, including every man and woman at Bath Iron Works, and I'll be a proactive leader for their interests in Washington."
The list of labor organizations that have endorsed Bellows includes: Maine State Employees Association-Service Employees International Union, United Steelworkers in Maine, every local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Maine State Nurses Association, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 716, Teamsters Local 340, Iron Workers Local 7 and Amalgamated Transit Union 714 in Portland.
The liberal political website Dirigo Blue also accused the Collins campaign on Tuesday of deleting critical comments from the candidate’s Facebook and YouTube pages after the BIW ad was unveiled.