Will unions sit out NJ's Senate primary?

WASHINGTON -- So, those big Democratic labor unions that were going to help Congressmen Rush Holt or Frank Pallone pull off an upset in New Jersey’s Senate primary? Maybe not.

The teachers’ union – the NJEA – sounds unlikely to get involved in a race that features two Democrats who each have close ties to public worker labor unions.

“We’re unlikely to endorse in the primary,” NJEA government relations director Ginger Gold Schnitzer told Real Clear Politics. “We have good friends running against each other, so there’s no advantage for us to get involved in this primary.”

The Web site also reported that the CWA – the biggest union for state government workers – is also unlikely to choose a side with two ardent supporters in the race.

The CWA's state director, Hetty Rosenstein, told the Star-Ledger that no decision has been made but added, "it’s not inaccurate to talk about the fact that it becomes a very difficult issue when it comes to Pallone versus Holt. It could cause paralysis. But that’s not to say that the CWA will not make a decision because we have a process."

UPDATED: Rosenstein told me that the CWA tabled debate on a Senate endorsement this week, but hopes to return to the issue after having more time to look at the issue.

"There’s no question that (it) makes things very difficult given the closeness that this union has had with both of these Congressmen," Rosenstein said, referring to Holt and Pallone. "Having said that ... people are going to grapple with what this election means and this is a very serious and well-informed group ...it's premature to say exactly what they'll decide to do."

A potentiall huge chunk of support is at stake. The CWA has 70,000 New Jersey members, Rosenstein said.

According to Democratic insiders, the route to beating favorite Cory Booker in the Senate race was by exploiting his frayed ties to the party’s backbone, like labor, environmentalists and other reliable liberal groups. Individually, Pallone and Holt each have the record to win those groups’ support, and each of those organizations could drive turnout in an August primary that might draw few voters to the polls.

(Booker angered the teachers' union when he backed Gov. Christie's school reform plans, which included more charter schools and changes to teacher tenure).

But on the ballot at the same time, Holt and Pallone seem to have put organized labor in a place where they can’t pick one candidate, and may leave them both without formal backing. The individual members of those unions are probably more likely to turn out than the average voter, but if they’re not all pushing in the same direction they won’t give any candidate the boost that labor often provides.

Which would seem to give Booker yet more reason to feel optimistic.