The Trail

Friday, November 2, 2007

THE UNION LABEL

AFSCME Firmly In Clinton's Corner

The first thing Gerald McEntee wants you to know is that Bill Clinton didn't make him do it.

From the moment it was clear that McEntee's American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees would endorse Hillary Clinton for president, the line from her opponents was that this was an endorsement long in the bag because of McEntee's ties to the former president.

McEntee, the AFSCME president, insists otherwise. Certainly he has long ties to the Clintons. He's proud that AFSCME was the first major union to support Bill Clinton's presidential candidacy in 1992 -- a critical endorsement for a candidate who has had difficult relations with organized labor. And he has never made any secret of his admiration for the junior senator from New York.

But did the former president lobby McEntee and the AFSCME leadership on his wife's behalf? Not according to McEntee. "Not once did he ever ask me to support Hillary Clinton," McEntee said in an interview a few hours after the union announced its support for her on Wednesday. "To my knowledge, he didn't call anybody on our board."

The Democratic front-runner did, however, making repeated calls that included McEntee and many others in the AFSCME hierarchy who were involved in the endorsement process. The second thing McEntee wants you to know is that this endorsement process bears no resemblance to that of four years ago, when AFSCME joined with the Service Employees International Union in a surprise endorsement of Howard Dean.

McEntee is still recovering from that experience -- both Dean's implosion and his own public rupture with the former Vermont governor, whom he dubbed as "nuts" on the way out the door after Dean had fallen from presumptive Democratic nominee to loser in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This time, he vowed to "drill down" deeper into his membership before coming out with an endorsement, though it was quickly apparent that only two candidates had a realistic shot at the endorsement: Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

McEntee's order to drill down resulted in a series of polls sampling opinions of AFSCME's 1.4 million members, with a September poll putting Clinton at 41 percent, Obama (Ill.) at 22 percent and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) at 10 percent. The final vote of the AFSCME executive board was decisive for Clinton: 23 to 10. McEntee called that the kind of supermajority support that justified the union's endorsement.

McEntee also underscored that organized labor is fully invested in electing its candidate. AFSCME will spend $60 million in the 2008 cycle, with $5 million to $6 million additional allocated to the primaries. But he said the entire labor movement will spend $250 million to $275 million overall to elect the Democratic nominee, an unprecedented amount and one that never before has been aggregated by union leaders. That includes about $50 million by AFL-CIO.

"The American labor movement is in a very big time neighborhood this time around because, I guess, driven to a large extent by the Bush policies," he said, adding that labor leaders want the American people "to know how invested we are in this particular election."

-- Dan Balz

A BOOST FOR IOWA?

Edwards Eligible To Get Public Funds

John Edwards is now officially eligible to receive public matching funds for his presidential campaign, a milestone that could enable him to get a quick infusion of money as the Iowa caucuses approach -- enough to help him better compete with well-funded rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The maximum available to a candidate this year would be about $21 million. The downside for Edwards will be the spending caps imposed in exchange for taking the funds. For example, the most he will be permitted to spend in Iowa will be about $1.5 million. He spent more than $1.3 million there in the first nine months of the year. After the recent television buy he made there -- estimated by one rival to be upwards of $800,000 -- it would seem he is close to hitting the ceiling, if not shattering it.

But the numbers are more complicated than that. Many expenditures don't apply to the caps, including money spent on fundraising. If a portion of a circulating television ad is seen in neighboring states, a percentage of the buy is sliced out of the total.

"We're comfortable that with the caps, the money we have available will allow us to wage a very aggressive campaign on TV, in the mail, and on the ground in Iowa," said Jonathan Prince, Edwards's deputy campaign manager.

-- Matthew Mosk


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