Saturday, November 20, 2004 | News: JoDee Winterhoff - 2 unions' endorsements add to Dean's momentum | News: "2 unions' endorsements add to Dean's momentum
Register Staff Writer
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is expected today to solidify his front-runner status for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination while again displaying his agility in exploiting the 21st-century political landscape.

The two largest labor unions in the country - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union - are set to pledge their support to Dean over Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Union support is considered crucial to Gephardt, who has long-standing ties to organized labor and has aggressively courted the key Democratic constituency.

By picking up the endorsements today, Dean shows the ability to attract support from among the few growing sectors of the labor movement: government, health care and education workers.

"That's very, very big," said political columnist Charlie Cook, who publishes the Washington, D.C.-based Cook Political Report. "Dean is appealing to the one sector that's growing and has determined that's where the future is. He's demonstrated a knack for that."

The endorsements follow Dean's adroit use of the Internet, which propelled him to the lead among his rivals in fund raising and sets him apart in terms of appealing to new or growing segments of the Democratic electorate.

The announcement today also comes as Dean has been subjected to two months of withering attacks from his rivals and on the heels of his decision Saturday to outspend his opponents for the nomination. Combined with his record-breaking fund raising, Cook and others say, the endorsements position Dean as the Democrat to beat.

Officials with AFSCME, the largest union in Iowa, and the service workers union, a growing and politically influential group, declined to comment on the endorsements, although they and Dean's campaign staff planned a joint announcement in Washington, D.C.

The two unions have a combined national membership of 3 million. AFSCME, the nation's largest public employees union, has roughly 1.4 million members nationwide and 30,000 in Iowa. SEIU, which represents health-care and education workers, is the nation's largest union with 1.6 million members, with roughly 4,000 in Iowa.

The announcement is seen as a boost to Dean's campaign for the leadoff Iowa caucuses, where he and Gephardt are battling for the lead and where unions' ability to help organize and deliver supporters on caucus night, Jan. 19, is a significant asset.

"The challenge will be to get the organizers out in these counties to organize their members and get them to turn out on caucus night," said JoDee Winterhoff, a longtime Iowa Democratic organizer with close ties to organized labor. "It's a leg up for Dean, but it's not a gigantic advantage."

The endorsements would be among three international unions to back Dean, including the painters' union, compared with 20 unions that have thrown their support to Gephardt. But the decisions of AFSCME and SEIU could go a long way toward blocking Gephardt from receiving the coveted endorsement of the nation's largest labor umbrella organization, the 13 million-member AFL-CIO.

Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy played down the significance of Dean's achievement, saying Gephardt's labor backing, which includes political heavyweights such as the Teamsters and Machinists, is larger and broader.

"We never thought we would get the support of either AFSCME or SEIU. But Dick Gephardt has a wide range of labor unions, representing the industrial sector, representing building trades, representing transportation," Murphy said Tuesday. "I'll stack our union support up against Howard Dean's any day and we'll win with it."

Gephardt, who opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, has blamed the trade pact for sending manufacturing jobs overseas. Dean, who supported NAFTA as a governor, faces little hostility for the position from service sector employees who have less to fear than the manufacturing sector.

SEIU's most recent national accomplishment was to organize professionals and staff at University Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Combined with AFSCME's size and statewide presence, it could be of help to Dean in his campaign for the caucuses, said Winterhoff, a former chief of staff to Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin who ran the Iowa Democratic Party's coordinated campaign in 1996.

After months as a small-state governor best-known for his opposition to the war in Iraq, Dean burst into the top tier of the 2004 Democratic presidential field in July when he topped his rivals in second-quarter fund raising. He set the quarterly fund-raising record for a Democrat in the third quarter, raising almost $15 million, due largely to a flood of contributions over the Internet.

Since then his rivals, mainly Gephardt and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, have spent weeks attacking Dean's 11 years as governor.

Dean announced Saturday he would opt to finance his campaign solely with private contributions, betting he could raise more than the roughly $19 million he would receive if he chose to abide by spending caps.

The endorsements come at a critical time when the sense of electability is beginning to coalesce around Dean, said campaign manager Joe Trippi.

"It's a sign of how we're beginning to answer in a credible way: Who can beat George Bush?" Trippi said. "What you're seeing is AFSCME and SEIU looking at the whole group of candidates and coming to the conclusion it's not just whether the candidate is good for working families, but also whether they can win."

National political columnist Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, agrees the endorsements show Dean has convinced a large, educated sector of the Democratic base that he is more than a single-issue candidate.

"I think the endorsements are a significant and important credential for Dean," he said. "It adds a sense of - inevitability may be a bit too strong - but a sense of Dean's momentum."

Reporter Thomas Beaumont can be reached at (515) 284-2532 or

Howard Dean, campaigning in eastern Iowa on Tuesday, blamed President Bush for allowing contracts in postwar Iraq to be granted to corporations with ties to his Republican backers, including energy company Halliburton and construction giant Bechtel.

"Again, every penny that is misspent is keeping our troops in Iraq longer. It is a disservice to them and the American taxpayer," Dean said in a speech in Iowa City at the University of Iowa. "This entire process is endemic not only with Iraq but every policy of this administration."

Howard Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri appeal to different sectors of organized labor in their quests for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Here's a quick look at some areas of their labor and trade positions:

Gephardt voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 while Dean supported the trade pact as a governor. Dean said it was good for Vermont, but has said since that he would not sign a trade agreement that did not have higher labor and environmental standards. Both support reopening the agreement to change its labor and environmental standards.

Both candidates oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would expand NAFTA to include countries in Central and South America. Both candidates support raising the minimum wage. Gephardt has proposed an international minimum wage."


Post a Comment

<< Home