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Election 2004

Dean steams on with union help

By Associated Press
Published November 13, 2003

WASHINGTON - Two powerful unions formally endorsed presidential hopeful Howard Dean on Wednesday, further cementing his status as Democratic frontrunner by nearly every measure - organization, momentum and money.

Dean's coup came in a rare but expected joint announcement from the presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

"This man of Vermont has the best chance to beat Bush," said Gerald McEntee, president of the 1.5-million member AFSCME.

Dean called the endorsements extraordinary, saying each would "change America because it's going to put working people back in the driver's seat of this country."

Dean still lacks the support of many party leaders and activists, who question whether he has the temperament to win and worry liberal aspects of his record will be easy targets.

McEntee, who was instrumental in the nomination of Bill Clinton in 1992, acknowledged the concerns of many, saying, "I had to make a lot of very tough phone calls over the course of the past week."

The endorsements give Dean 3-million highly trained, extremely motivated campaign workers. They also provide new access to campaign cash. AFSCME spends more on politics than any other union. In the 2000 cycle, the union spent $40-million, said political director Larry Scanlon.

On Saturday, Dean became the first Democratic presidential candidate to reject taxpayer money and avoid the accompanying spending limits, saying he must compete against President Bush's cash-rich campaign. He vowed to come close to Bush's money by asking 2-million supporters to contribute $100 each. The unions pledged to help him Wednesday.

The endorsements from the diverse unions also help shield Dean from criticisms that he has failed to expand support beyond well-to-do, white Internet users and has been unsuccessful in courting minority voters.

AFSCME's endorsement was particularly vexing for Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and Wesley Clark - all of whom had at one point thought they had the nod in hand.

Gephardt even skipped a nationally televised debate last week to meet with AFSCME leaders in Iowa. The Missouri congressman who has carried labor's banner in Congress has the backing of 20 unions, but AFSCME and SEIU were two of the most coveted prizes.

Labor's split is intense and deep, especially for unions supporting Gephardt, who think he was slighted by AFSCME and SEIU.

That sets the stage for closely contested races, especially in Iowa, where one in three caucus attendees comes from a union household. Gephardt recently pulled ahead of Dean in polls there.

Veteran activist Phil Roeder said AFSCME and SEIU are the "best two field organizing unions" in the state. "Gephardt probably still has the upper hand, but Dean certainly made a big jump in his direction," he said.

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