The Sunday Fix

While Reid Stays Out of '08 Fray, Sen. Clinton Signs His Son

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee hopes to play a major role in picking the next Democratic presidential nominee.
AFSCME President Gerald McEntee hopes to play a major role in picking the next Democratic presidential nominee. (By Joe Marquette -- Assocated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has pledged not to pick among his many friends running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, choosing instead to focus his time and energy on making Nevada's new early caucus as successful as possible.

With Reid not committing, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) found the next-best thing -- signing his eldest son, Rory, as both the chair of her campaign in the Silver State and an adviser on Western issues.

Rory Reid currently serves as the chairman of the Clark County Commission -- that's Las Vegas's county -- and is a past chairman of the Nevada state party. He is the only one of Reid's four sons in elected office.

In landing him, Clinton strikes the first major blow of the Nevada caucus contest, newly added to the party's early nominating calendar by the Democratic National Committee last year. The caucus is set for Jan. 19, sandwiched between Iowa's Jan. 14 caucuses and New Hampshire's Jan. 22 primary.

So is it like father, like son? Not necessarily. Harry Reid's allies insist he is committed to staying neutral in the race, regardless of Rory's decision. Even so, The Fix bets that Reid -- Harry, that is -- will be fielding calls from Barack Obama (Ill.), Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Joe Biden (Del.) in the very near future.

Public-Service Union's Dream

Gerald McEntee makes no secrets that he and his union -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) -- want to be major players in picking the next Democratic presidential nominee.

"We always had the desire to get in early and fight our way through the primaries," said McEntee, whose plainspokenness is evidenced by a handwritten note over his phone that reads: "You can speak off the record!"

McEntee's dream scenario would be a repeat of 1992. In that contest, AFSCME endorsed then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton early on, boosting Clinton's candidacy and, according to McEntee, keeping New York Gov. Mario Cuomo out of the race. His nightmare scenario would be what happened in 2004, when AFSCME backed former Vermont governor Howard Dean, only to watch him implode after a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. Of the process that selected Dean, McEntee said: "We feel in retrospect that it didn't go deep enough."

The first step in remedying that defect will come Wednesday when AFSCME, which boasts a national membership of more than 1.4 million, hosts a presidential forum in Carson City, Nev. The serious Democratic candidates -- with the exception of Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) -- are set to appear. (Don't read too much into Obama's absence; he will join McEntee in Chicago on March 3 for a rally in support of unionizing a hospital chain in the area.) The candidates will then meet with AFSCME's 10-person presidential search committee, which will make a recommendation to the 31-member international executive board. A broader meeting of national AFSCME leaders and large local union heads will make the final endorsement decision.

Of course, that extended selection process doesn't mean candidates aren't engaged in some one-on-one wooing of McEntee himself. He has dined with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) at Washington's I Ricchi restaurant in what McEntee describes as a "productive, interesting meeting," and he also spent 90 minutes in his office with Clinton earlier this month.

He has also met with former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Obama called McEntee just after Thanksgiving to make it clear how serious he was about a national bid, and then again more recently to explain to the labor boss why he was skipping this week's forum. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards, who is making an explicit play to be the candidate of organized labor, reached out to McEntee last Thursday to set up a lunch.

McEntee is careful to note that AFSCME has ties to a number of candidates, making the choice "tougher than it's ever been," before quickly adding: "We would like to participate in the primaries."

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