Edwards, Out Courting Labor, Banks Goodwill but Little Cash

Former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards talks to striking service workers in Coral Gables, Fla.
Former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards talks to striking service workers in Coral Gables, Fla. (By Alan Diaz -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, May 21, 2006

Since leaving office in 2004, John Edwards has traded political fundraising for the picket line.

The former North Carolina senator has spent much of the past 17 months courting the labor community -- a powerful force within the Democratic party -- while devoting significantly less time to the nuts and bolts of collecting campaign cash to fuel his 2008 presidential ambitions.

"He has done more than any elected official or public persona to support our union efforts to organize," said Chris Chafe, chief of staff at Unite Here -- a coalition of hotel and restaurant employees.

This year, Edwards has spoken to the national conventions of the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition, a group of unions that broke from the AFL-CIO last year. He has also shown a willingness to throw himself on the front lines, joining Teamsters President James Hoffa on a picket line at the University of Miami in April.

Privately, Edwards has done substantial spadework on the labor front, as well. He meets with small groups of local labor leaders as he travels the country. Anna Burger, president of Change to Win, said Edwards regularly huddles with members of her group; Edwards "can name [Service Employees International Union] leaders in virtually any state and tell you when he last spoke to them," according to one Democratic source with long ties to organized labor.

But Edwards's intense focus on seeking labor's backing has come at a cost -- literally. Unlike his competitors for the 2008 nomination, Edwards has largely forgone fundraising for his One America leadership political action committee. At the end of March, Edwards had $7,000 left in the PAC's coffers and had not made a single donation from it to a Democratic candidate seeking office this November.

His allies argue that rather than raise money for himself and then dole it out to candidates, Edwards has adopted a more direct approach -- appearing at events that have collected more than $6 million for a variety of office-seekers. Edwards's fundraising strategy is also aimed at giving his donors, who have been asked to give almost nonstop since he was elected to the Senate in 1998, a break before the 2008 presidential race begins in earnest.

Kos Weighs In for Conn. Challenger

Connecticut businessman Ned Lamont is relying on Internet star power to boost his Democratic primary campaign against Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000.

In one of the three television advertisements released by Lamont in advance of last weekend's Democratic state party convention, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga -- the founder of the liberal must-read DailyKos blog -- makes a guest appearance.

As Lamont sits in his living room making the case for his candidacy, Moulitsas peers through the window and then joins Lamont on his couch. "Everyone is here to volunteer," Moulitsas says in the ad.

Lamont's campaign has quickly becoming a darling of the "net roots" -- a loose but vocal coalition of liberal activists on the Internet -- thanks to his opposition to the war in Iraq. Lieberman has alienated many within his party for his unapologetic support for the conflict, a fact he acknowledges in his own television ads.

While Moulitsas, who tends to go by the moniker "Kos," is not a familiar face to the average Connecticut voter, he does enjoy real recognition among those most likely to vote in the state's Aug. 8 primary.

Polling shows Lieberman with a large lead over Lamont, but even allies of the senator acknowledge that the contest will tighten. At the Democratic state convention in Hartford Friday night, Lamont easily qualified for the primary ballot by winning support from 33 percent of delegates.

Reid Gives 'Em Hell Online

The first words that come to mind when describing the slight, stooped, 66-year-old man also known as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid are not "Internet savvy."

But, according to Reid allies, the Nevada Democrat is using his campaign site -- GiveEmHellHarry.com -- to build a universe of donors and activists aimed at aiding Senate candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

Already, three -- Ohio Rep. Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania state Treasurer Robert Casey Jr. and Arizona real estate developer Jim Pederson -- as well as Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow have signed up to use the tools available on Reid's site to better their chances at victory.

GiveEmHellHarry.com also provides Senate candidates with the opportunity to guest-blog for a week, raising their profile among potential donors. Casey, Brown and Nevada candidate Jack Carter have done stints as guest bloggers.

Wanted: One Copy Editor

The press release writers in House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office may lose their performance bonus this month. Last week, Hastert left Democrats chortling when he issued a release with the headline, "Fiscal responsibility is not an option in this House of Representatives."

The headline was pulled, a bit clumsily, from a quote by Hastert, which read in full: "Make no mistake about it: Fiscal responsibility is not an option in this House of Representatives. It's a mandate from our voters who have every right to know that lawmakers are being responsible with taxpayer dollars."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company