The minimum-wage wedge

THE MINIMUM-WAGE WEDGE….Rick Klein had a good piece in the Boston Globe over the weekend on Dems embracing a wedge issue that, they hope, will do for them what anti-gay-marriage initiatives did for Republicans.

New Year’s Day will bring the ninth straight year in which the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $5.15 an hour, marking the second-longest period that the nation has had a stagnant minimum wage since the standard was established in 1938.

Against that backdrop, Democrats are preparing ballot initiatives in states across the country to boost turnout of Democratic-leaning voters in 2006. Labor, religious, and community groups have launched efforts to place minimum-wage initiatives on ballots in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas, and Montana next fall.

Democrats say the minimum wage could be for them what the gay-marriage referendums were in key states for Republicans last year — an easily understood issue that galvanizes their supporters to show up on Election Day.

In principle, this sounds very compelling, especially in an election cycle in which Republicans are likely to face an uphill climb. Of the seven states that will likely have a minimum wage increase on the ballot, three feature Senate pick-up opportunities for Dems (Arizona, Ohio, and Montana). As strategies to boost turnout in the Dems’ favor go, this seems like a good one.

The only flaw in the approach is that hasn’t worked according to plan lately. Last year, minimum wage increases passed easily in Florida and Nevada (with 71% support and 69% support, respectively). Voters heard all the predictable horror stories about massive job losses if wages went up, and they immediately saw through the nonsense.

Bush, however, beat Kerry in both states. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was reportedly scared to death of this issue appearing on the ballot, but his concerns were unwarranted. Floridians overwhelmingly backed a minimum wage increase — while supporting a Republican presidential and senatorial candidate who opposed the idea.

To be sure, the issue has all the makings of a perfect wedge issue for Democrats. The polls tend to be one sided, Republicans are put on the defensive, and working-class families who may find the right’s social conservatism appealing nevertheless want to see a little more money in their pocket.

The trick seems to be getting voters to connect the issue to the party that represents their economic interests.