WASHINGTON -- Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) kicked off his campaign for U.S. Senate Thursday at a South Boston union hall flanked by members from 26 unions.
Choosing the Local 7 hall on Old Colony Avenue, down the street from the rough project where he grew up, was no accident. Lynch, a former union president, is banking on labor's support to derail the well-choreographed plans of longtime Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and national Democrats, who tried to clear the field with endorsements from top Massachusetts Democrats -- including John Kerry, Barney Frank and Victoria Kennedy -- and a war chest of $3.1 million.
So far, Lynch looks like he's getting it.
"I can tell you with great certainty that our membership strongly identifies with Stevie Lynch as a former ironworker and a true hero to the middle class," Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, told The Huffington Post. Kelly cautioned, though, that the group had not taken an "official position." The Boston Firefighters Local 718 asked all of its off-duty members to attend Lynch's kickoff announcement.
"He got elected on 9/11," said Rich Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council. "It's hard to forget. it's a longstanding relationship.
"Lynch has a real head start on Congressman Markey, based on his background," Rogers said. He predicted that the AFL-CIO would either endorse Lynch or hold off in the Democratic primary, because Lynch already had the support of about half of its members, but needs a two-thirds majority to lock up the endorsement.
Lynch's union support may well prove pivotal in a possible third matchup against Scott Brown. Brown won his 2010 special election by winning union voters by a small margin to Martha Coakley, but lost in 2012 after unions pounded the pavement to get out the vote and went about 61 percent in favor of Elizabeth Warren. Brown is thus far mute on whether he'll run, but the AP reported that GOP officials said he was "leaning strongly" on getting his symbolic truck out of park and onto the campaign trail.
Union members made up 14.4 percent of Massachusetts households in 2012, but their get-out-the vote efforts lead them to punch above their own weight. Harris Gruman, the executive director of the Massachusetts State Council of the SEIU, told The Huffington Post that his group's door-knocking increased turnout by 13 percent from 2008 to 2012.
The primary only officially began Thursday. "We're eager to get involved in the general election," said Gruman. "We're going to be having an endorsement process that may not yield an endorsement or it may."
What makes the support unexpected is that Lynch clashed with unions over President Barack Obama's health care law, even after Obama met with him in the Oval Office. Labor leaders barred Lynch from speaking at the Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast in Labor Day 2009. Two dozen local labor leaders signed a letter in March 2010 to Lynch pleading with him to change his position.
But almost three years later, the differences seemed have mostly been smoothed over.
"There was a rift between Stephen and us, but you move on," said Rogers, who signed the letter.
"As much as universal health care is something we believe in, there were certain provisions we ask our members to stand against," said Kelly, referring to the tax on high-end 'Cadillac' health insurance plans that takes effect in 2018 that many unions opposed.
Markey's campaign responded to a request for comment from The Huffington Post by forwarding its statement from earlier Thursday, welcoming Lynch into the race.
The day was all Lynch's, as he traveled from Springfield to Worcester, and finally back to his native Southie.
"I remember my earliest goal growing up -– all I ever wanted to be was to be an ironworker," he said at Local 7. "To follow my dad. To join this union."
But there is, of course, a campaign before April 30. "There's going to be all kinds of politicking and strategizing," said Rogers. "The next month is going to be interesting. How that comes out, that's the $64,000 question."