- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2008

The nation’s largest union said yesterday it will mobilize more than 150,000 of its members to go door to door and work the phones for Sen. Barack Obama in the upcoming Democratic primary states, as former President George H.W. Bush prepared to endorse Sen. John McCain in the Republican race.

The 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Mr. Obama yesterday, said it will advertise heavily on radio and television for the Illinois senator in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania — states where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is banking on breaking her rival’s momentum.

“We think that by getting in now we can make a difference in the next couple of states and have that Democratic nominee resolved so the country can move forward for the good of the country and the good of the workers,” said Anna Burger, SEIU secretary-treasurer.

SEIU’s national executive committee deliberated for 48 hours before giving Mr. Obama the nod. More than half of the SEIU’s members are women; they have been the heart of Mrs. Clinton’s support.

“SEIU is one of the most powerful advocates that working families have in this country, and it’s an honor to have their support,” Mr. Obama said.

The highly sought endorsement came a day after the 1.3 million-member United Food and Commercial Workers union threw its resources behind Mr. Obama.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on SEIU’s decision.

On the Republican side, the camp of Mr. McCain, who has virtually locked up the party’s nomination, yesterday announced he would be meeting with the elder Mr. Bush in Houston on Monday.

Republican officials told the Associated Press that Mr. Bush will endorse Mr. McCain. The endorsement of the former president and patriarch of the Bush family could help with party stalwarts concerned about the senator’s conservative credentials. It follows the endorsement of one-time rival former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In Wisconsin, site of Tuesday’s primary, the Democratic campaigns sparred on the airwaves over debates.

The Clinton campaign started the spat, suggesting Mr. Obama may “prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions” because he did not accept a debate invitation in Wisconsin before the state votes.

The Obama team crafted a response ad noting the 18 previous debates and two more to come and hitting Mrs. Clinton on the differences between their health care plans.

Then came the Clinton rebuttal: “He’s hiding behind false attack ads.”

The Clinton ad said “Wisconsin deserves better,” and Mr. Obama needs to answer “why he voted to pass billions in Bush giveaways to the oil companies, but Hillary didn’t.”

Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle, who backs Mr. Obama, lashed out in response: “She has not reached out to the people of Wisconsin at all,” he said, dismissing her ad as “more of the same.”

“The only campaign she’s got going on in Wisconsin is this negative ad,” said Mr. Doyle, a Democrat.

A new Research 2000 poll in Wisconsin yesterday showed Mrs. Clinton behind by five percentage points but within the margin of error. It said 11 percent of likely Democratic voters remained undecided going into Tuesday’s primary. Mrs. Clinton had regularly led Mr. Obama in polls there until early December.

Mrs. Clinton did notch a win Thursday night, with New Mexico declaring her victorious nine days after Super Tuesday voting ended. She defeated Mr. Obama by about 1,700 votes, giving her two more delegates than her rival. She now trails Mr. Obama by about 56 delegates in the race to 2,025.

The national delegate count is 1,276 for Mr. Obama and 1,220 for Mrs. Clinton, including commitments from some of the nearly 800 superdelegates — members of Congress, state lawmakers and Democratic Party leaders — who are widely expected to decide the race’s outcome.

Mrs. Clinton continues to lead the superdelegate count, 241-164, but a new report by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics shows that Mr. Obama’s political action committee, Hope Fund, and campaign committee have outspent her in the race to support the campaigns of superdelegates since 2005.

The Hope Fund has distributed more than $698,200 to the campaigns of superdelegates, said the report based on a study of campaign finance reports. Mrs. Clinton’s PAC, HILLPAC, and campaign committee appear to have distributed $205,500 to superdelegates, it said.

In Texas, where 228 delegates are up for grabs on March 4, former President Bill Clinton returned to the campaign trail and warned Democrats that Mr. Obama’s health care plan would leave people unprotected, unlike his wife’s universal health care system for the nation.

“It would be truly tragic if the Democratic Party walked away from universal health care for the first time in 60 years when we finally got the business community and the medical community in line behind us,” Mr. Clinton said yesterday during a campaign swing through east Texas in advance of the state’s primary.

A new Rasmussen poll in Texas yesterday gave Mrs. Clinton a 16-point lead. In Ohio, where 166 delegates will be awarded on March 4, Mrs. Clinton has a 10-to-14-point lead.

Besides being in the Clintons’ sights, Mr. Obama was challenged by Mr. McCain to follow through on his “commitment” to use public funding in the general election, about $85 million, if he is the Democratic nominee.

“I am going to keep my commitment,” Mr. McCain said yesterday in Wisconsin. “The American people have every reason to expect him to keep his commitment.”

The Obama’s camp didn’t pledge to use the public system, which is paid for by a $3 checkoff on IRS tax return forms, but no presidential candidate has ever rejected the disbursements after the late-summer nominating conventions. It puts the candidates on equal footing with a little more than two months before the November election.

As for yesterday’s union endorsement, the SEIU was so eager to announce its vote it failed to notify either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton beforehand.

“This is about more than one election. It’s about building for the next generation of America. Barack Obama is creating the broadest and deepest coalition of voters we’ve ever seen,” said Andy Stern, SEIU president.

SEIU is made up of the largest health care union, the largest property services union, including building cleaning and security, and the second-largest public services union.

But the strength of the endorsement was somewhat muted by the previous actions of the organization and the fact that at least one state delegation abstained from the vote.

“Our New York members abstained from the voting,” Mr. Stern said.

Two locals, SEIU 1199 and 32BJ representing health care and property service workers, endorsed Mrs. Clinton in December. Local 1199 is the nation’s largest health care union, with more than 300,000 members in Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and the District.

Local 32BJ represents 100,000 workers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and the District.

Christina Bellantoni contributed from Green Bay, Wis., to this report, which is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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