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John Edwards: Labor's Darling?

Since leaving office in 2004, former North Carolina senator John Edwards (D) has been relentlessly courting the most powerful progressive unions in the country in hopes of winning their support should he decide to run again for president in 2008.

Edwards has championed two causes close to labor's heart -- the fight against poverty and the need for raising the minimum wage -- and made himself available publicly and privately to state and national leaders of the Service Employees International Union and Unite Here -- a hotel and restaurant workers union -- among others.

"He has done more than any elected official or public persona to support our union efforts to organize ... since he left office," said Chris Chafe, Unite Here's chief of staff.

Edwards's public schedule for the past five months is filled with events for the labor community. On May 10 Edwards was in New York City alongside Dennis Rivera, the powerful head of the local SEIU chapter, to advocate for an increase in the minimum wage. Late last month Edwards joined Teamsters chief James Hoffa on the picket lines with janitors and contract workers at the University of Miami. On April 11, Edwards spoke at the United Mine Workers convention in Las Vegas. This was less than a month after appearing in Vegas to speak to the Change to Win Coalition, a renegade group of unions headed by SEIU that broke from the AFL-CIO earlier this year. He spent four days in February on the Unite Here hotel workers' organizing tour, with stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.

In addition to his public advocacy for workers' rights, Edwards is also privately aiding labor's efforts, especially on raising the minimum wage. Five states -- Arizona, Ohio, Montana, Missouri and Nevada -- are likely to have minimum-wage initiatives on the ballot in November. Edwards has used the star power derived from his 2004 presidential bid to draw attention to the initiatives and raise money to fund them.

"My job is to -- number one -- bring attention to the issue so voters in the state know about it," Edwards said in an interview last month.

Perhaps the most important -- but least reported -- of Edwards's activities in the labor community are the small gatherings he holds with local leaders across the country. Chafe said that on a recent trip to San Franciso, Edwards spent 90 minutes with twelve Unite Here members.

"The impact of that on our membership is significant and well known because he actually listens," said Chafe. Another source close to the labor community said Edwards "can name [SEIU's] leaders in virtually any state and tell you when he last spoke to them."

Anna Burger, president of Change to Win, said Edwards regularly meets with members of her group across the country -- not to recruit them for his presidential campaign but rather to find out "what's going on around workers."

She added: "John Edwards is working hard to win the hearts and minds of not only local union leaders but national leaders as well."

In the 2004 presidential race, SEIU and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees -- then two largest unions within the AFL-CIO -- issued a joint endorsement of former Vermont governor Howard Dean. At the time (mid-November 2003), the endorsements were seen as perhaps the final piece in Dean's winning formula because the two unions represented more than 30,000 workers in Iowa and 10,000 in New Hampshire, the first two states to choose delegates for the 2004 Democratic nomination process. (Former Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt had by far the most union support with more than 20 labor organizations backing his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy.)

While those endorsements ultimately failed to deliver Dean or Gephardt a win in either state, the support of organized labor remains highly coveted to anyone thinking about 2008. Edwards's spade work has established him as the buzz candidate in the labor community. While several sources were careful to caution that the early excitement will not necessarily translate into any broad-scale endorsement, there is little question that he has won himself considerable loyalty among the more liberal unions that make up the Change to Win Coalition.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 18, 2006; 9:34 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Hawaii Senate: A Referendum on Iraq?


It is worth noting that Edwards was the only major candidate in 2004 who raised class issues with any depth. Any of the wannabe candidates could be courting Labor's support, but for Edwards it seems like a natural reflection of his family history, his personal story and his political inclinations. It would be a mistake, though, to discount the New Gore, who is looking pretty good to a lot of progressive voters. That said, it is probably the empty suit Mark Warner who will win the nomination, for the very reason that the business community and its allies in the DLC will feel a lot more comfortable with him than with laborite Edwards or environmentalist Gore. With any luck, in the end Hillary will have the good sense not to run, but should she choose to stay in the race, the fearful, cynical, all-things-to-all-people character of her campaign will work no better for her than it did for Kerry.

Posted by: jgabree | May 22, 2006 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Hillary will not win the nomination. Her lead is due to a high name id, but once the actual campaigning, and the debates start in the Democratic primaries than her lead will go down. Hillary is the Democrat that is climbing up the big hill toward the nomination. The Democrats are going to want to win, and they are not going to look to a pro-war Democrat that has not proven her vote getting ability. My money lies on Edwards, Warner or Bayh.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | May 20, 2006 6:42 PM | Report abuse

There has been a lot of buzz in Iowa with so many Democrats coming to test the political waters. I think the whole 2008 nomination for our candidate will come down to Hillary and the Un-Hillary. Edwards voted for the war, now he said it was a wrong vote, as he seeks the anti-war crowd.
Dean made millions on the anti-war view, the anti-Bush view, and Edwards is trying to bank on it. My money is on Hillary, and there are others here who want her to run and win.

Posted by: Jo Ellen Thompson**Iowa | May 20, 2006 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Hey Mike, the whole issue of job losses due to outsourcing is an inevitable trend of globalization. This is beyond the control of any politician. We can't stop outsourcing, I'm sorry to say. Remember when John Kerry talked about how Bush was outsourcing American jobs? Well, do you ever remember him saying what he'd do about it? The answer is no, because he could not stop outsourcing. As for illegal immigration, if you want to do something, crack down on employers who employ them. Require all illegal workers to be paid minimum wage, thus removing the incentive to hire illegals. If we sent the CEO of Wall Mart to prison for 5 years for hiring illegals, they'd stop pretty fast.

Posted by: Q | May 19, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Gore ran unsucessfully for the nomination in 1988 and was then nominated in 2000. As for losing as a VP candidate, Muskie would have been nominated in 1972 minus crying/snow-in-the-eyes incident. Edwards is going to be a viable candidate because right now, there's nobody representing the anti-Iraq war wing of the party. While Hillary Clinton moves further and further to the right, chased by Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, and Tom Vilsack, there will be an opening on the left. Russ Feingold and John Edwards are the only two competing for it. John Kerry fancies himself as a contender, but after his horrid performance in 2004, he should be forced to retire.

Posted by: Q | May 19, 2006 5:23 PM | Report abuse

has been an apologist for these actions...

she's on the inside....she knows that there's is a disparity between what is being sold and what is being done...

$70 Billion DOLLAR tax break for people over an income level of $200,000...which would be most of the people here....

but that is not most of the rest of the country...

why is it okay that their children fight your economic wars and you don't even pay them or include them in the looting?

sounds like royal thinking to me....

sounds like bastille day may happen here, sounds like guillotine shussing and defenestration is "\en ordere"

you won't take honest action guess it' s enemae

stay close to the wall...


Posted by: I really couldn't support someone that | May 19, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

See the Labor Union endorsed Dean in 2004, but many of the actuall voters in the Union disagreed with the Union's leadership pick in 04. So they never voted for Dean, but for Edwards who is very pro-labor I can see the labor voters really supporting him. He can win. He can beat any Democrat in the field and can win the General Election. I know the Healthcare Union too has been flirting with Edwards. Those two combined might equal up to a win in Iowa, but Edwards has to prove himself on other issues too. Edwards will show his strengths in economic matters, foreign policy and national security matters which will add up to a win for him. Edwards should be prepared to fight hard though because other principled Democrats like Mark Warner or Evan Bayh will get a lot of attention too.

Posted by: PopulistDemocrat | May 19, 2006 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Ok, here we are discussing 2008 candidates again, and I will keep talking about Condi for president. There are over 5,000 people who are part of the group raising funds for TV and radio ads. They will be gathering signatures on petitions to put her name on the primary ballots.

This is called activism. Supporting the person you believe is the most qualified to become our next president. The Democrats are free to debate which candidate they want and I can promote mine on the Republican side. The people promoting Condi have a website at with a collection of newspaper articles, polling data showing support and a collection of their ads. It is very interesting and thank you to Cillizza for providing a site like this for free expression of our political viewpoints.

Posted by: Tina | May 18, 2006 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Labor didn't deliver in 2004 and won't deliver in 2008. Sorry for the bad news.

Posted by: IA Caucus Veteran | May 18, 2006 4:38 PM | Report abuse

This message is for king of zouk about Republicans getting to keep running for president and the Dems can't.....

Please do some research about US political history. Adlai Stevenson ran twice (1952 and 1956) and never became president.

JFK ran in 1956, lost to Adlai but won the nomination in 1960. He was seen as stronger and more experienced.

Bob Dole ran as VP in 1976, and then ran again in 1980, (maybe 1984), 1988, 1992, and won the nomination in 1996, but he never won the presidency either.

Al Gore and John Kerry are not from the same mold as JFK. The likelyness of them winning is pretty hopeless.

Democrats have won twice and once in awhile they manage to hit the target correctly, but Gore and Kerry are broken arrows at this point.

Posted by: Yvonne Kroll | May 18, 2006 4:12 PM | Report abuse

what percentage of the people in the United States make over

$200,000 a year?

and would benefit from a $70 Billion tax break during war time that takes the burden off the rich for cheaper oil?

your disappearing middle class?

I doubtit, clue number one, who sent the National Guard overseas during "war" time?

why was the National Guard formed, to retake the country/government in the event of a coup from the inside....

they can't do that if they're otherwise occupied...

and why did we have the "crusades?"


Posted by: and speaking of your president caring about the citizens.. | May 18, 2006 3:57 PM | Report abuse

if he does run, and they need to be able to bite hard....and shake a rat until it's dead...

you know what I mean?


Posted by: Mr Edwards needs someone or a group with teeth | May 18, 2006 3:50 PM | Report abuse

you want to get rid of the illegals without spending a lot of money?

then arrest those congress people that hire or have friends that hire, as well as those in the executive branch...

see if that sends a message about how money is spent.

who needs 6,000 National Guardsmen or a fence when all we need to do is enforce existing laws?

make it a felony to hire and enforce.

if you work for the United States, you don't need to be less responsible than an ordinary citizen

you need to be more responsible.


Posted by: you want to stop something illegal? | May 18, 2006 3:48 PM | Report abuse

a lot of times people think that because they represent corporations that they are not representing a family....

you know what I mean?

like "Big Tobacco," they're not lawless and inconsiderate people that need to have their butts kicked around the kitchen are they? predjudice anyone?

unions need to be regulated, we still need them....wanna argue that I'll help you to see the truth of it.

and speaking of illegal:

you want to get rid of the _illegals_
(univiteds, not guests) without spending money?

why do we need 6,000 National Guardsmen walking the borders doing border patrol, because they know how to or because the president of "it's all about me and my friends," get's seen as "he thinks" effective?

would you like to, do you want to get rid of the illegals without spending money?

arrest those that hire, arrest all congress people and people in the EXECUTIVE branch and Judicial branch that hire or consort with those that do...including their families.

wouldn't 1.9 Billion dollars go a lot further if you used it to prosecute treasonous citizens that pass laws?

take action to protect your country,

before it is sold to friends of this administration


and you are back in the peasant class...

Posted by: I wouldn't know about your comments about unions and Mafia.. | May 18, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

The moment that I saw John Edwards at the Miami protests was the same moment that I realized that he was a has-been. That event was nothing more than a whole lot of egotistical, opportunistic politicians trying to strongarm an ex-govt official into getting them in the news; A serious candidate for president wouldn't have been there.

Edwards has become a shill of the union mafia (SEIU in particular). Maybe he has a future with them, but he surely doesn't have one with the people of the United States. This is one American whose vote - and checks - he's lost.

Posted by: FromFlorida | May 18, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Edwards is vulnerable in that he's not an inside the beltway guy....

Carter and to a much lesser degree Clinton were not as effective as they could have been if they had a

lead wolf, someone from the inside that could pull out some skeletons and make things happen in congress...


o, say can you see?

Posted by: there's something that needs to be viewed here... | May 18, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

RMill - Good post on the minimum wage situation in Ohio. I didn't hear that Blackwell had come out opposed to it - what an idiot. Public support for increasing the minimum wage is sky-high - something like 85%. Talk about staking out a hopeless position. It will do more good for democrats this year than the gay marriage ban did for repubs in '04. I'm not surprised that Dewine has come out in support of it(he is the perfect example of an electioin year flip-flopper) - but didn't he vote against the increase in the minimum wage when Senate Democrats brought it up for a vote in 2005?

Rasmussen 5/18:

Strickland - 53%
Blackwell - 36%

Posted by: Ohio guy | May 18, 2006 1:59 PM | Report abuse

If Gore doesn't run, Edwards will be the one can who can potentially overtake Hillary in the primaries. Unlike Warner, et. al., Edwards draws the sharpest distinction from Clinton. The netroots will respond to his "two Americas" economic populism and increasingly RFK-inspired rhetoric. His heritage and views on issues like trade will play well in the South and in states like Wis, Pa, Ohio & Mich. It would come down to California.

Posted by: Greg Harris | May 18, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse

John Edwards can do anything he wants with the minimum wage or for public employees and it wont make but of difference for the average working man and woman. Oursourcing and guest worker programs, both of which he advocates, are the reason Amercian's are being ruined. While Bill Gates is up on Capitol Hill, shaking Edwards hand and lobbying for doubling the number of H1-B visa's, 20% of our own Amercian citizen engineers are unemployed. A meat cutting job, which paid a living wage $18 an hour, pays right at $9 an hour day because Mr. Edwards and the rest of the idiots in Washington wont close down the border to guest worker programs and millions of illegal workers. You can say the exact same thig about house painters, carpenters, concret workers, any consrtruction job and, increasingly, manufacturing jobs. If Mr. Edward's succeeds in passing his amnesty program (I know, they don't call it an amnesty program, but everyone knows it is) you can count on unemployment and wage and benefit decreases for the next ten years. And what of those public employees? You refer to SEIU and AFSCME as "unions". Yeah, sure. When have they EVER stood up for working men and women? While the honest to god working men and women are taking a beating in wages and benefits, these parasites are demanding increases! They and their labor unions are the benficiaries, along with businesses seeking cheap immigrant workers, of those illegals becasue they get to provide social, educatinal and other services for them. Most of the 1.6 trillion dollars a year illegal workers cost the taxpayers of this country end up being funnelled through various states and federal social services agencies.

In Oregon, and this column ran a forum on Oregon yesterday, the gight for the governorship is centrally concerned with PERS. PERS is the public employee retirement system in Oregon. The present governor wanted to cut back on benefits just a little and lost the endorsement of the public employee unions over it. His adversary wants to make it fiscally sound, even if it means firing and rehiring government employees. Sounds sort of radical until you realize that Oregon's PERS accounts are 30 billion dollars in the red and the entire state budget is around 11 billion dollars annually. Something has to be done is balance the budget and no one will make the hard choices or sacrificies to do it. THESE are the people John Edward's is siding with.

Beyond all of this, guest worker visa's are the single greatest threat to the security of this country that there is. There are thousands of reports of Chinese and Indian engineers being permitted to work on top secret military contracts, of their stealing circuit boards, plans, and technology for weapons systems. Indeed, the widely reported unerwater missile tested by Iran is a U.S. weapons system that got to Iran via China. Indian technitians are working, as I write this, with coutries like Brazil, and Argentina, helping them establish nuclear weapons pograms. Indian technician's and Indian technology and equipmnet ARE the foundation for the Iranian nuclear weapons program! ALL, as in every single bit, of this technology originated in the U.S. and it was all literally walked out by guest workers. Even worse, we know that various American subsidiary companies in India have been iniltrated by Islamic radical organizations and they are using the cavalier L series visa programs to infiltrate operatives inot this country. We have caught several but it is estimated that there are at leat 20 different cells across the country from this one source. Mind you, these are not uneducated whack jobs, either. These are bright, trained engineers, dedicated to wrecking as much damage on this country as is possible whenever they are told to do so.

John Edwards has no vision, no plan for actually helping this country, no plan for dealing with the terrorist threat or the economic threat possed by guest workers. I submit, we would not be much better off with him as president as with George Bush.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 18, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

FYI: Latest Polling

Rasmussen reports the Lowest Approval yet for Bush after his Immigration Speech. Only 15% now strongly approve of Bush the lowest on record for the Bush Presidency.

Thursday May 18, 2006 --Thirty-six percent (36%) of Americans Approve of the way that George W. Bush is performing his role as President. Just 15% Strongly Approve. Those are the lowest levels ever measured by Rasmussen Reports. Just 65% of Republicans approve of the President's Job Performance, also a new low.

This data is based upon nightly telephone surveys and reported on a three-day rolling average basis. For today's update, more than 75% of respondents were interviewed after the President Bush's speech on immigration.

Just 39% of voters agree with the President's approach on immigration. Most consider the issue very important and believe that strict enforcement of immigration laws will help the economy.

Posted by: Wells | May 18, 2006 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I for one appreciate a politician that is interested in AMERICAN workers and how badly a raise in the minimum wage is needed. It seems congress et al have no problem voting themselves a raise every year, yet they could care less that wages for working americans are never going to catch up with inflation, partly in fact because we are paying for the healthcare, social services etc., for illegal immigrants. I realize Senator Edwards and I may not agree on the immigration issue, however, I do believe he is truly interested in what is happening to lower paid and middle class americans. Something most politicians and our President/vice president forgot about long ago! So I say goooooo Edwards! Thanks

Posted by: SUE FILUTZE | May 18, 2006 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Edwards seems to be trying to run as the anti-Paul Tsongas. Tsongas was socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Edwards is culturally a reflection of his southern roots but an economic populist. He's also the best stump speaker and retail politician among the prospective Dem candidates. Will that be enough? I doubt it.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | May 18, 2006 12:47 PM | Report abuse

It seems that as a national Dem, you only get one shot at the brass ring. Repubs,conversely, get to keep trying until they get to the top of the ticket. why is that?

Posted by: king of zouk | May 18, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

The US Chamber of Commerce represents a solid group promoting business; the engine which creates jobs in the private sector. We need to have a tax system which rewards the creation of good services and products (like Bobcat Manufacturing, which is ONLY made in North Dakota)

The benefits like healthcare and pension plans are incentives for worker loyalty and reward for years of service. Now the Unions will complain because they want all workers to belong and pay dues to them, but since all workers are NOT Democrats, there is complaint when Unions endorse Democrats, not Republicans. That is one of the arguments between unions and business.

Here is Florida, during the UPS strike, a few drivers came from management to replace of union drivers and one of them was killed at the stop sign in one of the city's in Florida. It was a horrible shock, and led to a settlement of the issue. It is the violence from unions which is a major turn off to people in America, and when property is destroyed by fire or being smashed, that is when police are called in to settle the civil disobedience.
This is a key issue for politicans, can Democrats be only for labor when so many of their wealthiest donors are also from business? Business is not owned by Republicans only and Labor is not owned by Democrats only.
Gephardt was a good Congressman, fair-minded in his years of service. But the ELECTABILITY issue of Kerry was that he acted presidential in Iowa and during the debates, rather than the attacker like Dean or Gephardt. That is why they lost so early, Kerry had better presidential demeanor and the national polls supported him. If he wants to run against Edwards and Clinton, it will be interesting to watch in 2008 where the Democrats want to take the nation in the matter of keeping business healthy to provide jobs for the workers and a reason to invest in business by the others who agree it create those jobs needed for the people in the US.

Posted by: Donna Jones/Tampa Florida | May 18, 2006 12:27 PM | Report abuse

edwards is the closest to a REAL Democrat based on his positions regarding the "people", minimum wage, the growing gap between the top and the bottom, taking from those needing help the most and giving all of the breaks to those at the very top who need help the least.....and remember, rolling back obscene tax cuts is not increasing taxes, though it is understandable that those drinking from that trough will cast it in that light.
Edwards, he could be that voice we are looking for.

Posted by: joe sammarco | May 18, 2006 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you on Edwards's prospects, FH. But, all this work on labor's behalf might land him in the position of Labor Secretary in the next Democratic administration.

Posted by: The Caped Composer | May 18, 2006 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I think we should just raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Who cares if businesses won't be able to hire anybody to do the work, we all know they will just go hire some illegal immigrants at $3.00 an hour anyway. As for Edwards...nobody likes a loser, and this guy lost twice in 04. Lost the nomination, then turned around and lost the election as the vp candidate. I don't give him much of a chance in 08 for the dem. nomination.

Posted by: FH | May 18, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Ohio labor is collecting signatures now for a November ballot issue to raise the Ohio minimum wage from $4.25 to $6.85/hr and tie to future CPI adjustments. GOP dominated legilsature agreed to raise to match the federal level of $5.15 starting next year.

Interestingly, the GOP Candidate for Governor is opposed (not surprisingly) but US Senator Mike DeWine, in a tough re-election battle is on record as being for it.

A report by Ohio Policy Matters reviewed states with minimum wages above the federal level and found small business growth higher between 1997 and 2003(9.6% employment growth) than those with rates at or below federal minimum of $5.15 (6.6% employment growth).

Also, states where such statewide amendments have been on the ballot has cuased dramatic increases in voter turnout, by 3 - 9%. This could greatly benefit the Democratic ticket in Ohio in November.

Posted by: RMill | May 18, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse

It's about time a Democrat took up the cause of the only group large enough to rein in corporate Washington. Not only must the minimum wage be raised - recently a congressman when asked why he was against raising the minimum wage when Congress had raised its own pay for years running, replied with an absolutely straight face that, after all, it was just a cost of living raise - the middle class deserves a tax cut.

Posted by: felicity smith | May 18, 2006 11:30 AM | Report abuse

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