John Edwards, Enjoying Timely Endorsements

Sen. John Edwards has the support of the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers unions.
Sen. John Edwards has the support of the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers unions. (By Jeff Cook -- Quad-city Times Via Associated Press)
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 3 -- The morning fog was still burning off the Allegheny River as workers gathered before 9 a.m. outside the hockey arena where a parade through downtown would later begin -- the electricians, the sheet-metal workers, the operating engineers, and, in greatest number, the coal miners in their camouflage T-shirts and the steelworkers in their navy blue.

For a candidate seeking to be the workingman's president, it was a good place to be on Labor Day. John Edwards, fresh from an early-morning flight from Iowa, stepped out of a minivan clad in a union-logo windbreaker, with his wife, Elizabeth, beside him. Bruce Springsteen's "The Promised Land" blasted from loudspeakers. On stage, the chiefs of the United Steelworkers and United Mine Workers of America belted out their unions' endorsements of Edwards. Then they yielded the mike to a man on crutches, Steve Skvara, 60, a former steelworker from Indiana who gained national attention at last month's union-sponsored Democratic debate in Chicago when he asked the candidates about his plight -- a career-ending car accident followed by the loss of his family's health insurance when LTV Steel went under.

"There rose a young man whose family comes from mills, and he's stood with working people his whole life," Skvara said. "I believe in this man and what he can do for this country."

Edwards hopes the rally will deliver a boost to a campaign that has struggled to keep pace in summer fundraising and polls.

In recent weeks, he and his wife have started to make a more explicit case for him against Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama -- that he is not only the Democrat most committed to changing Washington, but also the one most likely to be embraced by middle America in a general election.

"I am proud of the fact that [union leaders say] in their endorsements that John Edwards is the candidate who can campaign and win in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in West Virginia, in Kentucky, in all of the places in America where we have to be able to compete and win to win this election," he said, as a high school marching band warmed up nearby. "I will campaign everywhere in America."

Rank-and-file members seemed pleased. "He has America's heartland at heart," said Tim Chambon, 50, a steelworker from Natrona Heights, Pa. "We need someone who's going to look out for the small guy."

The endorsement of the steelworkers, one of the largest unions in the country with 1.2 million members and retirees, has not been in much doubt. But the campaign wanted to make the most of the nod anyway, particularly because some other big unions have gone with other candidates, despite Edwards's strong rhetoric on labor. Clinton has won the transportation workers and aerospace machinists, while Sen. Christopher J. Dodd got the firefighters. "We're way ahead of what everyone else has," Edwards said yesterday. "And I'm optimistic about the next month."

With that, he was on his way back to the minivan and Iowa, while his wife stayed to join union leaders in the parade, a half-hour march through downtown. Local boosters say it may be the largest Labor Day parade in the country, but such is the state of the decades-old labor movement. There were plenty of gaps in the crowd along the route.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company