Firefighters Take Risk on Dodd
Democratic presidential candidate Christopher Dodd picked off the first significant prize in the competition for labor union endorsements yesterday, winning the support of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) in what his advisers believe will be an important boost to his campaign.
The firefighters count 281,000 members, making them only the 10th largest union in the AFL-CIO federation. But they are among the most politically active and symbolically prized labor groups in the country because of the heroic actions of firefighters in New York and at 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 at a time when he was flagging in the polls and floundering on the campaign trail.
As Dodd was preparing to receive the support of the firefighters, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign issued a preemptive strike by announcing that she had won the endorsement of the United Transportation Union, which represents railroad, bus and public transit workers.
Dodd, who registers in low single digits in national polls, said yesterday 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 Democratic nomination battle. "They obviously know how to win elections," the Connecticut senator said in a telephone interview.
The formal endorsement will come Wednesday morning when the IAFF executive board meets in Washington. IAFF president Harold Schaitberger will then travel with Dodd to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada for events highlighting the union's support.
Schaitberger said Dodd won the union's support because of an unmatched record over 30 years of "carrying the water" for union in its legislative battles in Congress. But he said equally as important was his union's belief that Dodd has the leadership skills to keep the country safe during a time 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 nature 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 endorsement by the firefighters union and Schaitberger was at pains yesterday to explain that in backing Dodd his union was 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."
This week's endorsements are the first of what may be many in the next few months as organized labor chooses among the field of Democratic candidates. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards has aggressively pursued union support and is pressing for early endorsements. But he has competition not only from Clinton but also potentially from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Some unions are expected to remain neutral.
Dodd said the firefighters' support will be a signal to voters and possibly to other unions that the Democratic nomination should not be "based on celebrity or treasuries" and said that, with the overwhelming majority of voters still undecided. "The race is hardly over," Dodd said.
-- Dan Balz
Posted by: tbcrawford | August 29, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse
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