- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 15, 2003

It may not be possible to overstate the impact of the political bombshell detonated in Democratic circles in recent days by the leaders of the AFL-CIO’s two largest unions.

The joint decision by Gerald McEntee, president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Andrew Stern, president of the 1.6-million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to throw the support of their powerful unions behind the insurgent candidacy of Howard Dean may have set the stage for the already-high-flying former Vermont governor to deliver an early knock-out blow to his opponents.

Mr. Dean has just spent six months reaping political and media dividends from his grass-roots fund-raising juggernaut, whose upward-spiraling receipts have contrasted ever so sharply with the declining or disappointing contributions garnered by his Democratic opponents. Now, he has snatched two of the biggest Democratic-endorsement prizes from the expectant hands of his chief competitors. In doing so, he has sent shock waves through their campaigns, even as his own campaign continues to gather more force.

It is hard to say whether what Mr. Dean’s campaign gained from the AFSCME/SEIU endorsements exceeded what was lost by the campaigns of John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark. What is certain is that the combined effects made the endorsements especially potent. Mr. Dean becomes the beneficiary of the $7.5 million in independent expenditures that AFSCME intends to pour into the nomination fight, including a cool million in Iowa. In addition, AFSCME, the government-employees union, has 20,000 members in Iowa, many of whom are long-time caucus attendees. The SEIU’s 7,500 members in New Hampshire make it the biggest union in that state. Both unions are also poised to play critical roles in the megastates of California and New York.

Mr. Stern emphasized that the support of his union, nearly 40 percent of whose members are ethnic minorities, demonstrated that Mr. Dean’s appeal is far more extensive than the much-popularized liberal upper-class-professional and youth niches, which Mr. Dean initially attracted with his early and vocal opposition to the Iraq war. Meanwhile, the politically savvy Mr. McEntee, who was the first Big Labor boss to embrace Bill Clinton in 1992 and is known to seek out winners, has sent a powerful signal to other major interest groups within the Democratic establishment.

The reeling campaign of Mr. Kerry, whom Mr. McEntee considered endorsing before the senator’s once-sizable lead in New Hampshire disintegrated, was dealt yet another major setback. AFSCME subsequently flirted with Mr. Clark until the retired general’s flip-flop on Iraq destroyed any chance for romance. Mr. Gephardt, who has been labor’s best friend in Washington, desperately tried to secure the early endorsement of the AFL-CIO, which enthusiastically endorsed Al Gore in 1999 and Walter Mondale in 1983. Now, the AFL-CIO’s two biggest unions have embraced Mr. Dean. The Dean endorsement coup was a devastating blow to all three campaigns.

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