The national head of the firefighters union yesterday endorsed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd for president and vowed the same kind of “neighbor to neighbor” push that he said catapulted Sen. John Kerry to the nomination when the union backed him in 2003.
Mr. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat registering single-digit support in national and state polls, called the endorsement by the International Association of Fire Fighters — the union’s earliest ever — a “great boost.”
He insisted that polls showing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in the lead are meaningless and said his campaign finds most Iowa and New Hampshire voters undecided.
“When we jumped in and began campaigning for John Kerry everyone thought we were crazy … [because] he didn’t have a shot, they said,” said Harold Schaitberger, IAFF president.
“We did what firefighters do … we took the risk,” he said. “We believed he could win the nomination and we were right.”
Mr. Schaitberger called the other candidates strong and said the firefighters would remain positive — with the “one exception” of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
“He has run his campaign on a platform which I think is more myth than fact,” he said, plugging IAFF’s 13-minute Web video attacking Mr. Giuliani for saying he showed leadership after the September 11 terrorist attacks six years ago.
“What Rudy portrays is not a full picture of the decisions made that led in our view to the unnecessary deaths of our FDNY members,” Mr. Schaitberger says in the video, created to clarify what he deems “the urban legend of ‘America’s Mayor.’ ”
The union leader tried to keep the focus on the unanimous decision to endorse Mr. Dodd, and promised a similar approach to reach Iowa and New Hampshire voters that IAFF used in 2004. The IAFF’s 1,500 Iowa members magnified turnout for Mr. Kerry by making sure “our members went to a caucus and that they carried with them no less than five or six of their neighbors, not firefighters,” he said.
Mr. Dodd, chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and a senator since 1980, was lauded as the author of a $3 billion bill for equipment and training for firefighters.
Dodd staffers called the IAFF endorsement “race-changing news” in a campaign e-mail.
“These are my first responders,” Mr. Dodd said. “They’re taking a chance on someone they know. This is an endorsement that goes far beyond its numbers. This will have a tremendous impact.”
Mr. Schaitberger expressed disdain for “prognosticators,” “Washington gurus” and “high-paid political types” who proclaim Mrs. Clinton the inevitable nominee, and noted the same group pegged Mr. Kerry as “dead man walking” in 2003.
Democrats close to the 2004 campaign noted how much the IAFF endorsement helped Mr. Kerry gain momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire. But they cautioned that Mr. Kerry had an easier path because Mr. Dodd trails badly in name recognition and campaign cash.