Hoeffel, running far behind Specter in the polls, scored the backing of two unions this week: the statewide American Federation of Government Employees and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776. That brings the number of union workers who support Hoeffel to about 200,000 of the 900,000 AFL-CIO members statewide and, his campaign said, demonstrates a widening gap between Pennsylvania's top labor officials and their rank-and-file.
"A lot of our members were very upset with the state AFL-CIO ... that they did endorse Arlen Specter," said Vince Maisano, the region's international vice president for Communications Workers of America.
Specter was the only Republican endorsed by the AFL-CIO's 58-member statewide executive council on Aug. 31. The endorsement raised questions about Hoeffel's ability to galvanize widespread support - even among traditionally Democratic groups.
But Hoeffel said he has a "great deal" of support from labor rank-and-file and expects to coattail on union efforts to turn out the vote for Democrat John Kerry in battleground Pennsylvania's presidential election.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of union households and union members will vote Democratic in Pennsylvania this fall, including voting for me," Hoeffel said.
Specter's campaign rolled out another endorsement of its own, from the AFGE local that represents corrections workers at the high security federal prison in Allenwood. Campaign manager Christopher Nicholas said the labor leaders behind Hoeffel were outvoted 40-12 during the AFL-CIO vote.
"Joe Hoeffel is obviously stung by Sen. Specter's enormous labor support," Nicholas said.
"These dissenters are insulting the voters by telling them they do not know how to split a ticket," he said.