- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean collected endorsements from two of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO yesterday, giving his Democratic presidential campaign access to a built-in network of money and volunteers.

The 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union and the 1.4 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees both endorsed Mr. Dean at a ceremony at the Mayflower Hotel in the District yesterday.

“We have a candidate, we have a leader, who represents our values, and who I believe — we all believe — can defeat this president, who actually never won,” said Gerald McEntee, president of AFSCME, after the union’s board unanimously voted to endorse Mr. Dean.

Last week, SEIU’s board decided to endorse Mr. Dean, but held off on an official announcement so SEIU and AFSCME could deliver a double punch yesterday.

“They represent one of the big events of the campaign so far,” said Ron Faucheux, a political analyst and former editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine.

He said the endorsement helps Mr. Dean position himself as the front-runner, and makes it more difficult for one of the other eight Democrats running to mount a successful “anti-Dean” candidacy — particularly Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

“To stop Dean from getting the nomination, the establishment of the Democratic Party would have to unite behind one candidate, and a key part of that establishment would be organized labor,” Mr. Faucheux said. “Gephardt would be, I think, the prime candidate to become the labor candidate.”

The endorsements bring money — AFSCME, for example, plans to spend at least $1 million in Iowa, the first binding nomination contest. They also bring manpower: The unions are among the largest in Iowa and in New Hampshire, which holds its primary eight days after the Iowa caucuses.

“We have built an enormous grass-roots organization in our campaign so far. But what you have just done dwarfs even our organization: 3 million members between the three of you,” Mr. Dean told the union members gathered yesterday.

The third union attending yesterday’s event was the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which endorsed Mr. Dean last month.

Mr. Gephardt, who had won endorsements from other unions, including the Teamsters, was seen as the only other candidate who could have won the full AFL-CIO endorsement — which would have been an enormous victory in such a crowded primary. But Mr. McEntee said yesterday’s endorsements make it almost certain the AFL-CIO will not endorse anyone in the primary.

“I think it raises a lot of obstacles — a real high mountain to climb,” he said.

Mr. McEntee said Mr. Gephardt was hurt by having not just supported war in Iraq, but by actually having helped President Bush craft the congressional resolution authorizing war and then appearing in a Rose Garden ceremony with Mr. Bush at the White House.

And Larry Scanlon, political action director of AFSCME, said Mr. Gephardt just didn’t convince them he had the fund raising necessary to win, while Mr. Dean, with his unconventional campaign, impressed them.

Attending yesterday’s event was former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Asked if he was on board Mr. Dean’s campaign, Mr. Barry said he is “getting there.”

“He’s run on a lot of issues I agree with,” said Mr. Barry, who served four terms as mayor.

“I’m glad [the Rev.] Al Sharpton is running. He needs to run to raise issues nobody else is raising, and I admire and respect that. But I think Dean has a better chance of beating Bush,” Mr. Barry said.

He also said the race is different than in 1984, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination.

“The dynamics are different than in ‘84, when Jesse ran. The dynamics were totally different, because [President] Reagan wasn’t viewed the same way Bush is viewed, and Democrats had a number of options then,” he said.

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