Washington Prowler

SEIU Later

Kerry laid off. Dean’s slowing cash flow. Plus: Florida up for senatorial grabs.

By 11.9.03

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AFSCME HOW I FEEL
In the hours leading up to last Thursday's rumored announcement that the influential Service Employees International Union were backing former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean, his opponents Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Edwards made desperate attempts to stall the announcement.

Kerry and his senior advisers, in particular, were furiously calling SEIU president Andrew Stern. Their anger and sense of futility built when rumor started to spread mid-day that not only had Dean been tabbed by the SEIU, but also that the Gerald McEntee's American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees seemed destined to endorse the diminutive one from Vermont.

"Kerry was apoplectic," says one of his campaign staffers. "He just went nuts. We are just devastated. We knew SEIU was probably lost after the summer conference where Dean and Edwards came out ahead in straw poll voting of membership. But AFSCME was supposed to be in the bag. We thought once McEntee got over Clark, he was back to us. This hurts."

Kerry spent much of Wednesday and Thursday on the campaign trail attacking Dean for his remarks about wanting to be the candidate of voters with the Confederate flag on their trucks. Kerry's remarks were tailored almost exclusively to minority voters, and even more narrowly to the large SEIU and AFSCME membership in New Hampshire and elsewhere. SEIU has one of the largest -- if not the largest -- minority membership in organized labor.

"It was pandering pure and simple," says a Dean staffer. "We knew when we had Kerry playing the race card that we had him beat."

Dean was desperate for the union backing, in part because it will almost certainly ensure that his fundraising stays on track -- at least through the early primary season. Internal Dean numbers show his online fundraising has dropped by almost a third in recent weeks. Just recently, he hired Mike Ford as a senior adviser. Ford is a grassroots campaign organizer, who has worked with AFSCME on political campaigns in the past. He is expected to play an integral role in organizing AFSCME members on the ground in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

But slower cash flow won't be the story on Dean for quite a few days. It will be about how Dean and his team managed to end run the bigger -- theoretically more powerful and influential -- campaigns to steal labor's support.

STAR LUST
Since Sen. Bob Graham's recent announcement that he would not seek re-election in Florida, Republicans in Washington again have been putting on the heat to higher profile candidates to run in the state primary. Currently, former congressman Bill McCollum, who was defeated in the 2000 Senate campaign by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, state speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd, state Sen. Daniel Webster, lawyer Larry Klayman and Barbara Sheen Todd, a local county commissioner, are the pick of the Republican litter.

The RNC, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, would like to add a star to the mix. "This seat is suddenly huge for us again," says an RNC political strategist. "We win this and it may mean the difference between 59 and 60 seats."

A lot more has to happen for the Florida seat to loom that large. Campaigns in Alaska and Illinois need to be stabilized and put in play for Republicans. Both are leaning toward Democrats. But even with those two potential losses, the GOP is looking to pick up seats in South Carolina, North Carolina and possibly South Dakota and Washington.

Last Friday, the White House was said to have made one last pitch to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez about a run in his adoptive home state. The former county executive of Orange County is a classic American immigrant story, and his Cuban roots would energize the Cuban-American community, which has had its ups and down with the Bush administration.

At the same time that the White House was talking to Martinez, rumors were swirling that Rep. Katherine Harris was looking at a primary run. Months ago, she denied interest. But on Friday, she said she and her husband might look at the race and consider it.

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