- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

The Democrats seeking the presidency tried to win approval of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing union yesterday by portraying President Bush as the worst option for union members and for the nation as a whole.

“This president is the worst president of the five I have served with,” Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri told the Service Employees International Union. “He’s done a terrible job. He’s wrecking the country. He’s a miserable failure.”

Meanwhile, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean criticized the president for opposing the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and law school affirmative action programs, and particularly objected to Mr. Bush’s characterization of them as quota programs.

“This president played the race card, and for that alone he deserves to go back to Crawford, Texas,” Mr. Dean said.

The campaign for the Democratic nomination for president is heating up after a slow summer, and the candidates are in Baltimore tonight for a debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. They were in Albuquerque, N.M., Thursday for the first of six debates sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee.

The SEIU was a welcoming audience for Mr. Dean, Mr. Gephardt and six other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 to try out new one-liners and refine others already used. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida did not attend.

The 1,500 members attending their political action conference at the Washington Hilton cheered wildly at every critique of Bush policy from Iraq to health care to the economy.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said the president’s economic philosophy is failing for working-class and middle-class families.

“They’re tired of being trickled on by George W. Bush,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Dean said he wouldn’t impose new taxes but would go back on the tax cuts Mr. Bush has pushed through Congress.

“I think most people would be happy to pay the taxes they paid when Bill Clinton was president of the United States,” he said.

The candidates also made a particular appeal for their health care plans because health care workers are a large portion of the 1.6 million members of the SEIU.

Mr. Bush has defended his decisions on both security and the economy, saying that at each step of the way he was faced with a decision and he thinks the American people agree with those decisions.

“Higher taxes will not create one job in America,” the president said last week. “Raising taxes would hurt economic growth. Tax relief is putting this nation on the path to prosperity, and I intend to keep it on the path to prosperity.”

In addition to the SEIU, the Democratic candidates met privately with leaders from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is the nation’s second-largest union.

The SEIU’s leaders will meet tomorrow to decide whether they have enough information to make an endorsement.

SEIU President Andrew Stern said the union has committed 2,004 members to work full time on politics for the nine months leading up to the November 2004 election, and plans to have 50,000 members volunteer to make phone calls and campaign door to door.

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