- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

Democratic presidential candidates who supported President Bush in authorizing use of force against Iraq will suffer among hard-core party activists, the chairman of the AFL-CIO's political committee said yesterday.
"We're opposed to it, we sent letters to everybody, we let the Democratic leadership know where we are," said Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is part of the AFL-CIO.
"We didn't think it was appropriate what some of the Democratic leadership did in terms of not just voting for the original resolution, but embracing Bush and his proposal in the Rose Garden after it was done. That engendered some confusion, at least on behalf of our people.
"With some of the real partisans and activists in the Democratic Party I think that will be difficult to go away," he said. "These are the people who lead the charges in terms of the primaries in the states."
He added that candidates such as Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, are likely to benefit from their opposition.
Mr. McEntee, who is in his seventh four-year term as head of the 1.4-million-member union, told reporters at a breakfast yesterday morning that Mr. Bush is still enjoying a "bubble" of support stemming from the September 11 attacks. Mr. McEntee called that a wild card in the election.
"I think the Democrats have to be able, in some way, to dispel sort of this bubble from 9/11 that George Bush continues to have," he said.
As for labor's role in the upcoming election, the AFL-CIO has established a 527 organization, the tax-code reference for the political operation of choice under the new campaign-finance laws.
Mr. McEntee said it will have about $20 million to $25 million to spend. But he said the organization believes it has reached a threshold in labor turnout, so the 527 will emphasize registering and turning out black, Hispanic, Asian and female voters.
Labor households accounted for a quarter of voters in the last election, and the White House has tried to court labor leaders in hopes of winning an endorsement or, more likely, preventing an endorsement of Mr. Bush's next opponent.
But Mr. McEntee said whatever gains the White House hoped to make probably have been squandered by recent administration actions and statements particularly a meeting that Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao held last month with AFL-CIO leaders in Miami.
"After Secretary Chao spoke in Florida there was just a push back in terms of the leaders of American labor, in relationship to how they were treated, and they believe it's indicative of the feeling of the entire administration toward working families and towards labor," Mr. McEntee said.
He said labor unions are more politically united now than they have been in recent elections, with the Bush administration providing common opposition for them to rally around.
His criticism also extended to conservative Democrats who are trying to strike a deal with liberal Republicans on a tax-bill compromise.
"I don't think that's the right way to go for them or the country," he said, arguing that the negotiations are best left to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "When you have a caucus and you elect somebody to be head of that caucus they should have support."
As for Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, who frequently sides with Republicans, Mr. McEntee said the senator "shouldn't even be in the Democratic caucus as far as I'm concerned."
The AFL-CIO represents about 11.5 percent of the work force, and that number is shrinking. Mr. McEntee said any further drop would be a matter of concern.
"If we go down to lower than 10 percent of the American work force, and as I said we've been dropping, we really become, really, no social force in this country, with no power to change national social issues," he said.

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