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Labor Endorsement 'Dogfight' Continues

John Edwards has been doing everything humanly possible to win the support of the country's labor movement for his presidential campaign, which is currently stuck in third place.

He's courted their leadership, walked picket lines and espoused rhetoric that would make a union steward proud.

And yet, on Monday, when the Service Employees International Union met to make an endorsement, the group couldn't quite make the call for Edwards.

He could still win the support of the union's 1.9 million members. The executive board deferred a decision on an endorsement until October, saying they needed more time to assess the records of the candidates.

"The executive board has decided to go back to the local members and ask their opinions before making a decision," spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller told reporters.

But the non-decision is a blow to Edwards, for whom labor support is critical in two important ways: First, because an endorsement by labor gives credence to the populist, I'm-for-the-worker message he has been spreading.

But second, and maybe more importantly, winning labor undercuts the electability argument made by his chief rival, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Labor doubts about Clinton suggest a weakness that her aides do not want to acknowledge, particularly when it comes to Edwards' claim that she is too much a part of Washington to care about the little people.

Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama have been working hard to win labor, too. Many of SEIU's members are from New York or Illinois, and former president Clinton has reportedly been wooing union members. Newsday reported earlier this month that the former president called the president of the steelworkers "repeatedly" before that union announced its support for Edwards.

And all three of the top Democratic candidates are in Chicago today addressing the a convention of the Change to Win coalition, of which SEIU is a member.

Edwards aides privately say they are not surprised that labor unions are wavering under the three-way pressure. But they insist that Edwards will continue to make his case to the unions.

"John Edwards has the strongest labor support among any of the presidential candidates. The Carpenters, Steelworkers, Transport Workers, and Mine Workers together represent more than 2 million working Americans and their families," said spokesman Eric Schultz.

"Make no mistake about it, though, it's a dogfight to get endorsements and everyone is competing hard to secure labor's support."

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  September 25, 2007; 1:25 PM ET
 
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