- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003


Howard Dean has won a prized presidential endorsement from the AFL-CIO’s largest union, top officials from the Service Employees International Union told at least three Democratic campaigns last night.

The endorsement by the 1.6 million-member SEIU, to be announced today, could provide the momentum Mr. Dean’s campaign needs to win backing from another politically powerful union that so far has remained neutral, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The SEIU endorsement will be announced today after the union’s 63-member executive board meets with the former Vermont governor and Democratic front-runner, campaign sources said, insisting on anonymity.

Spokeswoman Sara Howard said Mr. Dean is the only candidate being considered, but the board could decide against endorsing anyone.

“Tomorrow, the local leaders who comprise SEIU’s executive board will come together to decide whether the union should endorse,” she said. “Until they vote on that question, any speculation as to the result of that vote is just that — speculation.”

But other officials said it was a done deal.

In another political development for big labor, the executive board of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is being summoned to a newly scheduled meeting Wednesday to consider an endorsement, a union source said.

Mr. Dean is a major contender, though John Kerry and Wesley Clark also are being considered.

AFSCME, with 1.5 million members, had previously set early December for an endorsement date but moved up the timetable when the rival SEIU decided to act.

The AFSCME endorsement is considered vital because the union spends more money on elections than any other. Its president, Gerald McEntee, was key to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign success by providing crucial, early support.

SEIU and AFSCME initially overlooked Mr. Dean as a marginal, quirky candidate from a small state. But that changed as he surged in fund raising and polls in key states such as New Hampshire and Iowa and began attracting large, boisterous crowds.

Several of the union’s big, influential locals that are in California and New York have been open in their affection for Mr. Dean, with one even holding a fund-raiser.

An SEIU endorsement means 1.6 million foot soldiers working on a candidate’s behalf. It also would help Mr. Dean diversify his campaign, which has attracted mostly younger, white, middle- and upper-class voters.

The union also has planned an aggressive, voter-mobilization effort for 2004 that includes making 7 million phone calls, distributing 6 million fliers, visiting 10 million homes and running six mobile action centers in converted tractor-trailers.

Officials plan for 500,000 members to donate to the effort, totaling $20 million.

As the largest AFL-CIO affiliate, it has just 1,300 members in Iowa, an early Democratic test with Jan. 19 caucuses. But the union is the largest in New Hampshire — which has a Jan. 27 primary — with 7,500 members to mobilize voters.

SEIU also has a large presence in other early primary states, including Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington.

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