Pennsylvania vote to test labor's strength and loyalty

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The fight for the hearts and minds of America's labor unions is raging in western Pennsylvania, where Joe Biden has suddenly stopped smiling.

In the midst of a speech to boost Democrat Conor Lamb ahead of next week's special election, the former vice president shifts to his decades-long relationship with organized labor, which is now under attack.

"It makes me angry when we're not respected – when you're not respected," Biden tells scores of carpenters who packed into a suburban Pittsburgh union hall on Tuesday. "Everything unions do is done well."

Yet after a painful 2016 election season that exposed cracks in labor's political might, the longtime pillar of Democratic politics is looking to Pennsylvania's March 13 election for a much-needed comeback.

In the young Trump era, no election has tested the strength and loyalty of the modern-day labor movement more than this one. And in the coming months, the organizations will be tested again as labor leaders work to unify their members behind vulnerable Democratic incumbents across the industrial Midwest.

The 2018 contests, particularly Senate and governors' races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, will help decide whether 2016 was a temporary setback for the Democratic Party's most powerful traditional ally or the turning point in a new chapter of declining relevance.

Those states are home to more than 2.2 million of the 14.8 million union members nationwide, according to federal labor statistics.

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