By: Briana Bierschbach
Citing their candidates’ real-world experience as executives before coming to Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw its backing behind Minnesota U.S. Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips last week, two of the new class of suburban House Democrats.
Last month, Republican Rep. Pete Stauber was surrounded by ironworkers in the Local 512 union hall in Hermantown when he accepted their endorsement, and he preached his support for mining and pipeline jobs in northeastern Minnesota.
In a twist fit for 2020, a year where nothing is normal, a number of traditional Democrat-backing unions, particularly those that support mining and pipeline jobs, are breaking off to support some Republicans.
And longtime Republican allies like the U.S. Chamber are backing some Democrats, including those in critical swing districts.
The weight of their support is more than just an endorsement to tout on a mailer. Unions and business groups have for decades thrown considerable financial and organizing support behind their chosen candidates.
It’s not a shift that happened overnight in Minnesota. Jason George with Local 49 of the International Union of Operating Engineers said his organization started reaching out to Republicans eight years ago. That was after the union’s membership felt the DFL Party had moved away from supporting blue-collar jobs tied to mining projects and pipelines that had become unpopular with the party’s base.
It’s been awkward at times for George. “You see Democrats who don’t support our jobs but are really strong on labor rights, but you have some Republicans who are great on jobs but they are right-to-work,” he said.
To be clear, neither group is completely abandoning traditional political ties.
The Operating Engineers have endorsed both Democrats and Republicans this cycle. George said union membership is close to a 50-50 political split. The Steelworkers Local 63 recently endorsed Stauber’s DFL opponent, insulin affordability advocate Quinn Nystrom.
In rolling out 23 endorsements for Democratic freshmen, including Craig and Phillips, the U.S. Chamber also endorsed 29 Republicans, including First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn.
For Jonathan Weinhagen, the president of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, the endorsement of Democrats like Craig is a “welcomed shift from the U.S. Chamber’s historically Republican-leaning endorsement strategy.”
Craig led the human resources division for a major medical manufacturing company before running for Congress. Phillips is the former head of Phillips Distilling and now co-owner of Penny’s Coffee, with three locations in the Twin Cities.
“In these increasingly divisive times it is even more important to engage both parties to advance the interests of our economy,” Weinhagen said. “Both Craig and Dean have proved to be great partners on business issues and I look forward to continuing to work with them.”