Washington Prowler

Unfinished Labor

Moving ahead with Kerry -- though how to break the news gently to Howie? And can Edwards be outmaneuvered?

By 2.4.04

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You'd think that the American Federation of Teachers would probably have a few folks in its three million-strong membership that know a thing or two, and you'd be right. Its leadership knows a winner when it sees it.

Which is why, despite the fact that the AFT's internal member surveys showed Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean running very close in preferences, the AFT endorsed Kerry on Tuesday.

"Under normal circumstances, we probably would have brought both candidates back in," said an AFT board member. "But the stakes are too high to play games with Dean. We want a winner, and Kerry is a winner. This is about getting our people back in control of the Department of Education, of getting our man back in control of the White House. Even if Dean were a fan favorite, he's not going to do that."

According to the AFT source, senior AFT staff spoke with senior DNC staff in the days leading up to the endorsement. The DNC-ers strongly suggested that if a choice came down to Kerry or Dean, Kerry should come out ahead.

The AFT endorsement also means Kerry will have additional resources for primary states down the road, from volunteers to potential donors steering money his way. Though on a teacher's salary how much could that be?

The AFT endorsement, though, further highlights the huge undercurrent within the Democratic left to do just about anything to defeat President Bush in the fall. Kerry's campaign has done a good job of creating the impression that it is now the only game in town. Even if that isn't always the case.

Look for an announcement either tomorrow or next week on where the formerly Gephardt-endorsing "Alliance for Economic Justice" will hang its organized labor cap for the next few weeks. The group of mostly manufacturing unions met with John Edwards on Tuesday and came away satisfied that he was their guy. A last minute appeal by the Kerry camp got their candidate a meeting with AEJ today. Should Kerry pry that endorsement away from Edwards, it would be a huge upset, particularly to Edwards's Super Tuesday strategy, which was banking on having manufacturing support throughout the South.

Of greater import to Kerry will be the outcome of the meeting in Detroit today between Dean and AFSCME and SEIU leadership. There are rumors swirling in Michigan that both unions intend to withdraw their support from Dean as early as next Monday, and that the Thursday meeting is nothing but a courtesy get-together.

Sources inside both unions say that its leadership has been speaking on almost a daily basis with Kerry and Edwards campaign staffers. "And these have been long conversations," says a Kerry staffer. "These guys really have huge buyer's remorse about Dean and are looking for an exit strategy."

SEIU president Andrew Stern has been telling reporters that the meeting was more strategic, intended to get Dean back on track. But the latest numbers show Dean's chances at having a strong impact on the Democratic rave all but gone. He is trailing badly in Michigan polls to Kerry, a state Dean only a week ago claimed was pivotal to his "delegate strategy." And on the day he was campaigning in Washington state, its governor, Gary Locke, endorsed Kerry.

The DNC is so confident about Kerry winning the nomination that it has already quietly begun its own internal polling and focus groups on the candidate, issues, and even potential running mates. "Obviously the Kerry folks have a huge part in all this, but it's never too early to be looking at strategy and options," says a DNC source.

Potential running mates the DNC is testing: Edwards, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Gov. Bill Richardson. "No surprises there," says the DNC-er.

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