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Unions look at who can win the presidency when they prepare to endorse a candidate

Unions look at who can win the presidency when they prepare to endorse a candidate

By all accounts, Democratic presidential candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich should be racking up union endorsements.
They have walked picket lines, denounced trade agreements, bashed corporations and curried favor with unions large and small. In joint appearances with other Democratic candidates, they routinely get the loudest applause from the union rank and file.
If loyalty and reliability were the only qualifications for an endorsement, even union officials say Kucinich and Edwards would get them all. But with unions starting to line up behind candidates before the primary elections start next year, the word that counts most seems to be "electability."
"We are in a situation where we have a lot of friends running for this position," said Edward J. McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has not endorsed anyone.
"There are people that we've been involved with for years and years in the Senate who we know, and there are others we know that have been involved probably a shorter period of time but just as enthusiastically. They're all good candidates. But the key to what we should be about is winning the election in 2008."
Winning the presidency, not the Democratic primary, seems to be the goal of the unions that have already endorsed candidates.
The United Transportation Union, which made the first labor endorsement, on Aug. 28, made sure to call Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a "winner." Harold A. Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the endorsement of Sen. Chris Dodd was "about who has the ability to win the election."
Clinton also has been endorsed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Edwards, who has been working hard to secure labor endorsements, got one this week from the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.
The United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America are also expected to endorse soon at an event in Pittsburgh, although a final decision on a candidate has not been made.
Figuring out who to support _ Clinton? Sen. Barack Obama? Someone else? _ is not as easy as it was in the past, union leaders say.
"Each in their own way has been very supportive," said Terence M. O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America.
The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, will not immediately endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary. Change to Win, whose seven unions broke away from the AFL-CIO, will hear from the candidates individually in Chicago in September.
"John Edwards has done the most with our members over the years," said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. "But clearly the people in New York have a very positive feeling about Hillary, and our Illinois members are in love with Obama, so it's complicated."
Union endorsements can be key to a primary campaign for not only the money and momentum a union can provide, but the sheer manpower unions can throw behind a candidate in the form of motivated workers to man phone banks, hand out leaflets and promote for politicians.
The problem, unions say, is that all the Democratic candidates are pro-union.
"All of the candidates on the Democratic side of the ticket, they're all speaking our language," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
There have been clear union candidates in the past, like Richard Gephardt, who as a Missouri congressman racked up several union endorsements during his failed runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. Gephardt was a favorite because of his loyalty to union causes, but he never made it out of the Democratic primaries.
Edwards and Kucinich are union favorites now, relentlessly advocating for union support at every campaign stop. "As long as I'm alive and breathing, I will be standing with you," Edwards told Iowa union members, pledging to walk a picket line as president if elected.
But Kucinich is considered a long shot for the nomination, and Edwards is trailing front-runners Clinton and Obama in polls. "If electability wasn't a problem, Kucinich would be the front-runner," said Robert Bruno, a professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Not getting the first or the majority of union endorsements by no means eliminates either Edwards or Kucinich. Both are presidential campaign veterans, and it only takes one or two endorsements from unions to survive the brutal primary season.
Sen. John Kerry's 2004 candidacy got a major boost from the International Association of Fire Fighters. Their endorsement kept him in the race after the almost-coronated favorite Howard Dean and Gephardt flamed out in the early primaries.
Having so many friends in the primaries may also keep some unions on the sidelines, with not enough of their membership behind a single candidate to make an endorsement worth it. Those unions may wait until there's a clear front-runner to jump in.
In Nevada, the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union is key but has said repeatedly it has no plans to endorse early and is looking closely at candidates' viability.
"We don't anticipate an early endorsement," said O'Sullivan of the Laborers, who were the top labor contributors to federal candidates and parties in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In the end, having so many allies running for the Democratic nomination means more say with whoever wins, unions say.
Having to choose between friends? "I think it's a nice problem to have," McEntee said.
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On the Net:
http://opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.asp?IndP&Cycle2004
http://www.aflcio.org
http://www.changetowin.org


Updated : 2021-06-25 20:37 GMT+08:00