Will Gore Have Labor Pains Over China?

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There was more to Al Gore's hangover Thursday morning than an excess of champagne during the previous night's $26 million Democratic fund-raising gala. He'd scored one for free trade and corporate campaign donations by being on the winning side of the China trade bill, but he'd had to buck the Big Labor heavies — and like a boozy faux pas, it might be coming back to haunt him. He'd asked unions the classic New Democrat question — where else you gonna go? — but this time they were giving it some serious thought. "In the end, most of the unions want Al Gore elected," says TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty. "But the question is, in November, will they do all they can, not only with money but with organization, getting their people out to vote." And don't think those union lobbyists didn't stalk off the Hill on Wednesday without a list of the 73 Democrats who walked with the White House on HR 4444. Sullenness toward the administration, says Tumulty, "could reverberate all down the Democratic ticket."

Even worse, some in the labor crowd have actually come up with an alternative: Ralph Nader. In somewhat shocking statement Tuesday, UAW president Stephen Yokich said Gore was "holding hands with the profiteers of the world" and said Nader "will take a stand based on what is right." And Nader, longtime corporate gadfly and hard-core environmentalist extraordinaire, is running well enough in all the right places to give Gore the same case of the Perots that George Bush caught in 1992. Nader is running 4 to 5 percent nationally and 9 to 10 percent in California, an absolute must-win for Gore. Another pivotal state is Michigan, home of the UAW, and in union-heavy Ohio Nader has higher favorability than Bush or Gore. The Gore camp isn't panicking yet, but as Tumulty says, "in a close race, in key states, Nader could make a difference, especially if the union vote gets excited about him." Or if they just get fed up enough with lockstepping with New Democrats to sit out November on the couch. As AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said of the Dems' big bash last night: "Under the circumstance, it's not appropriate to attend."