Firefighters Endorse Dodd as Transport Union Picks Clinton

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) picked up the first significant prize in the competition for labor union endorsements yesterday, winning the support of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) in what his advisers believe will be an important boost to his presidential primary campaign.

The firefighters count 281,000 members, meaning they are only the 10th-largest union in the AFL-CIO. But they are among the most politically active and symbolically prized labor groups in the country, in part because of the heroic actions of firefighters at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

The IAFF also was the only union to endorse Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) before the 2004 Democratic primaries and helped sustain his candidacy when he was flagging in the polls and floundering on the campaign trail.

As Dodd was preparing to receive the support of the firefighters, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) issued a preemptive strike, announcing that she had won the endorsement of the United Transportation Union, which represents railroad, bus and public transit workers.

Dodd, who registers in single digits in national polls, said yesterday that the IAFF endorsement will provide valuable resources and "boots on the ground" in early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, where a surprise showing could vault him into the thick of the nomination battle. "They obviously know how to win elections," he said in a telephone interview.

The formal endorsement will come this morning when the IAFF executive board meets in Washington. IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger will then travel with Dodd to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Schaitberger said Dodd won the union's support because of an unmatched record over 30 years of "carrying the water" for the union in Congress. But equally important, he said, is his union's belief that Dodd has the leadership skills to keep the country safe during an era of terrorist threats.

"We believe Chris has the experience we need right now in a pretty tough world," he said in a telephone interview.

Schaitberger said he and his members were not daunted by the long-shot character of Dodd's candidacy. "Yes, right now he's not polling," he said. "It would be facetious to suggest anything else. But I don't think the polling is worth spit."

Schaitberger said firefighters play an integral role in communities across the country and, perhaps more significantly, understand the caucus process in Iowa "better than all the highly paid Washington types."

All the Democratic candidates actively pursued the union's endorsement, and Schaitberger was at pains yesterday to explain that in backing Dodd his union is not rejecting the others. Noting that some other unions may refrain from endorsing a candidate before the primaries, he said: "That's not who we are. It's the nature of who firefighters are to be bold, facing a challenge and taking a risk."

Dodd said the firefighters' support will be a signal that the Democratic nomination should not be "based on celebrity or treasuries" and said that, with so many voters still undecided, "the race is hardly over."

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