AFL-CIO Poised for Endorsement of Gore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 1999; Page A7
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 10 Vice President Gore was assured the endorsement of the AFL-CIO today in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, a major boost to his struggling campaign.
The endorsement decision had become "the first Democratic primary" in the tight contest between Gore and former senator Bill Bradley. A decision against making an endorsement this week--backing Bradley was not realistically on the table--would have been a serious blow to Gore's prospects.
For Gore, the early endorsement, which will be formally voted on later this week, is the first positive competitive development in weeks, if not months.
Although its strength has declined steadily over the past four decades, organized labor has undergone a revival under the leadership of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and it is a powerful force in Democratic primaries, especially in such states as Iowa, New York and California.
Unions are one of the few organized Democratic constituencies. As many as one in five delegates to the Democratic convention will be union members, and a large number of union locals are equipped to run phone banks and conduct get-out-the-vote drives.
The key breakthrough for Gore was the decision of the United Food and Commercial Workers to drop its opposition to an early endorsement. "It's over," said a union political strategist after the 1.4 million-member UFCW agreed to support Gore.
The switch by the UFCW and its president, Doug Dority, ended weeks of back-room infighting that as recently as a few days ago had threatened to turn this week's AFL-CIO convention into a major embarrassment for Gore.
It will be one of the earliest presidential endorsements by the AFL-CIO, just days later in the election cycle than the 1983 endorsement of then-Vice President Walter F. Mondale.
Officials expect Gore to address the convention after the scheduled Wednesday endorsement vote, although neither he nor Bradley was scheduled to appear here.
The vote is not expected to be unanimous. Two major unions--the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers--are still pushing for a delay to voice their opposition to administration free trade policies.
Under convention rules proposed by Sweeney, unions representing two-thirds of the AFL-CIO's 13 million members must vote for a candidate for an endorsement to be official. Sweeney aides would say today only that Gore had the needed two-thirds support.
The top AFL-CIO leadership and several major unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Communications Workers of America have been actively pushing the Gore endorsement. They have argued that because of the shortened primary election season next year, labor does not have the luxury to wait to endorse.
"We need time to put a program in place," said a top political operative for the AFL-CIO. "It takes a few months to get ready and the Iowa caucuses are just 3 1/2 months away.
The impact of the endorsement is less a matter of money than it is manpower. "When we endorse we're seriously going to back it up. It's not money, it's hard labor," said an AFL-CIO official.
Senior labor strategists are convinced they can produce a victory for Gore in Iowa, where there are about 160,000 union members. But they are less certain about their ability to beat Bradley in New Hampshire. With the California primary moved up to March 7, the unions appear convinced California will be key to Gore's success. "California will be the battleground," said one labor strategist.
Recent political focus groups conducted by the AFL-CIO, some as recently as last week, show that both Gore and his probable Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, are basically unknown to the voters.
Labor leaders are hedging their bets, however, keeping in close touch with Bradley. "Bradley's raised the comfort level with the union leadership," said one AFL-CIO official who has been keeping tabs on the process.
Staff writer Thomas B. Edsall in Washington contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company