Gov. Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy speech in Reno, Nevada today on the anniversary of 9/11. In his remarks, he was careful to note that he had suspended attacks on President Barack Obama out of respect for the day's solemnity. But Nevada politics may have been affected by events in Chicago, as clashes between Obama's allies in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Obama's former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, continued.
The CTU is on strike for the first time in twenty-five years, as union bosses fight for the diminishing spoils of city and state tax revenues and pension funds. The nation is watching closely, partly because many state and local governments face similar potential conflicts with public sector unions. Las Vegas is no different, and the city's firefighters are currently involved in a bitter dispute over budget cuts in the economically distressed resort town.
An editorial today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal takes the firefighters' union to task for using an ambulance accident to campaign for concessions from taxpayers: "Nothing says class like using minor injuries to try to leverage more tax money from a city and a public who can't afford it. And did we mention a woman died in the accident?...And firefighters don't understand why they're losing the public's respect and admiration?"
The Chicago dispute--in which innocent children in the city's woefully inadequate schools are the ultimate victims--is putting the economic issues facing Nevadans into sharp focus. Voters look to Republican-run states such as Wisconsin and New Jersey, and note that public sector unions can be defeated; they look to neighboring California and to Illinois, both true-blue one-party states, and understand the price of inaction. To the extent that Romney and Obama are proxies for state-level battles, Republicans may benefit from the Chicago news.
And the Romney campaign needs the help. Democrats are outpacing the GOP in new voter registration in Nevada, owing largely to the fact that they are better organized, thanks to the state's once fast-growing unions. In addition, Nevada's Republicans include a large number of Ron Paul supporters, who are disappointed by his loss and by rule changes at the party's convention last month that, they argue, were aimed squarely at them.
Indeed, given the Democrats' structural advantages in the state, it is remarkable that Romney is within striking distance of Obama--just 3.3 points behind, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average, and possibly even closer in more recent. Romney may be benefiting from the fact that the Democrats' candidate for U.S. Senate, Shelley Berkeley, is running a weak campaign against incumbent Republican Dean Heller.
In a close race, the chaos in Chicago could tip the balance. And it is not clear how Obama can stop the crisis. If he opposes the unions, he risks losing their active support; if he remains quiet, he bolsters the case for Republican leadership. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has come out in favor of Emanuel and against the unions, pitting Obama and the mayor against each other. Look for more such tactics in the weeks ahead.