Washington Prowler

Some Like It Hot

Fire douses Edwards’ hopes. Graham charges ahead. Dean serviced officially.

By 10.31.03

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IN THE HOPPER
North Carolina lame duck Sen. John Edwards pulled down about $120,000 on Wednesday night in Venice Beach, California, during a fundraiser in the loft of Easy Rider star Dennis Hopper.

Edwards' presidential campaign staff had been hoping to rake in more than $200,000 at the $1,000 or more per head event, but blamed the fires burning down the coast for the lower attendance.

Perhaps they should also blame the scorchingly hot candidacy of Howie Dean as well.

Several celebrities billed as "co-hosts" of the Edwards event pulled a no-show, even though they were in the Los Angeles area on Wednesday night. The buzz in La-La land is that in the past month, i.e., since the Hopper event was planned, those thought loyal to Edwards jumped on the Dean bandwagon.

"I won't embarrass anyone by naming names, but we know that we have at least two of Edwards' Hollywood backers now in our camp," says a Dean volunteer in Los Angeles. "We have fundraisers upcoming down here, and you'll see. Hollywood loves Governor Dean.

At least Edwards was entertaining during his visit with Hopper and friends. In a 15 minute speech, the senator told the small, if enthusiastic, gathering that President Bush's only desire was to further the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

The average income of attendees at the Edwards gathering probably exceeded $500,000 per year.

READY TO DO THE RIGHT THING
Look for Sen. Bob Graham to announce he's back in the hunt for his U.S. Senate seat. An email was sent out late Tuesday night to a number of paid and volunteer Graham staffers. The subject line bore the title, "Update on Reelection Announcement."

"Things could change, but we're getting the sense that he's enthusiastic about another run," says a Graham aide in Washington. "He doesn't want to be party to giving Republicans another shot at greater control of the Senate. He was openly disdainful of Senator Edwards' decision not to run. He'd be a hypocrite if he didn't do the right thing for the party."

SERVICE WITH A SMILE
As reported by the Prowler last week, and reported by other media outlets this week, the Service Employees International Union is expected on November 6 to hand its endorsement to Howie Dean. The decision will be made by the SEIU president Andrew Stern and the union's 63 member executive committee.

SEIU's leanings were made clear during a late August Washington meeting, where SEIU rank-and-file members voted for Dean in a beauty-contest ballot. Stern, though, put off an endorsement, in part, out deference to his AFL-CIO brethren, who also put off a vote.

The SEIU's endorsement gives Dean the potential linchpin he needs to lock in the inside track to the Democratic nomination. That's not because the SEIU is the AFL-CIO's largest member. (Remember, Dick Gephardt still has the best shot at the overall AFL-CIO nomination because of the large number of AFL-CIO affiliates that have already endorsed him.) No, the SEIU is critical because it puts Andy Stern in the Dean campaign's hip pocket.

Over the past 18 months, Stern has helped finance the startup of three critical 527 soft money political action groups (these are sanctioned by the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act). The Partnership for America's Families, America Coming Together, and America Votes all bear heavy financing by the "union label" and by next summer these groups may have more than $100 million to spend in support of Democratic causes, the biggest of which is the party's presidential candidate.

While that money can't be spent directly on Dean for President. It can be spent on general issues campaigns and get out the vote programs.

In some ways, the SEIU's endorsement might actually help Gephardt get the full AFL-CIO nomination. That's because AFSCME president Gerald McEntee (he's the man who "discovered" Bill Clinton in 1991), was also sniffing around Dean after his other "hot" candidates, Sen. John Kerry and Gen. Wesley Clark, flamed out. But McEntee and Stern despise each other, to the point where McEntee pulled AFSCME money from some of labor's 527 programs because Stern was given a larger leadership role than he was.

McEntee now may turn to Gephardt, or to another candidate, simply to spite Stern. That split in the AFL-CIO's largest unions might be enough to ensure that the union backing Gephardt has already received is enough to win him the AFL-CIO's endorsement.

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