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NEA Commits Cash, Manpower to Tight Races

The National Education Association is putting its formidable get-out-the-vote and campaigning efforts behind five high-priority U.S. Senate races and 22 U.S. House of Representatives races. And those are just the hot races. Overall, the union is targeting 77 House races and 14 races for Senate.

It seems to be a Republican year, and the NEA tends to support Democratic candidates in both state and federal races.

But, as usual, the union is also backing a few GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost her primary to tea-party fave Joe Miller and is now running a write-in campaign, and John Hoeven, the governor of North Dakota, who is considered a shoe-in for his state's open Senate seat.

The NEA is also supporting a number of vulnerable Democratic senators, including Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Barbara Boxer of California, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Patty Murray of Washington, and Harry Reid of Nevada (the majority leader). Plus, it's backing some Democratic contenders, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Robin Carnahan of Missouri, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Chris Coons of Delaware, Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois, and Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

On the House side, the union is backing GOP lawmakers Todd Platts of Pennsylvania, and Judy Biggert of Illinois, both of whom are moderates and sit on the House education panel. The union is also supporting Rep. Ahn "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana, who supported both the health care overhaul bill and edujobs.

Vulnerable House Democrats getting NEA support include education committee members Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Phil Hare of Iowa, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, and Dina Titus of Nevada.

The union is planning to spend about $40 million this year, including on state and federal candidates.

The NEA's first, $15 million round of TV and radio ads started airing today in Arizona, where Rep. Harry Mitchell, a former high school teacher, is running for re-election, and in Ohio, where Rep. Betty Sutton is trying to hold on to her seat. The union's independent campaign operation has also sent out about 75,000 pieces of direct mail to voters in North Carolina, where Rep. Larry Kissell, a former social studies teacher and critic of the No Child Left Behind Act, is in a tight race for re-election.

It's important to remember that, along with the direct mailings and the advertising campaigns, candidates backed by the NEA get the help of volunteers who can really help increase turnout, particularly in mid-term elections where participation tends to be lower.

"Our ability to turn out members [at the polls] is crucial," Karen White, the director of the NEA's department of campaigns and elections, told me. The union has had 59,000 volunteers working on its re-election efforts since the spring. (Those are the folks who knock on doors, make phone calls to voters, and show up at public meetings.)

"It's a really layered approach," White said.

That help can be priceless, folks who both love and hate unions have told me. While campaign commercials and contributions are great, it's often that get-out-the-vote muscle that candidates covet when they seek support from their local teachers' unions.

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