Washington Prowler

Bowing at Stern

A king-making union hesitates to crown Dean or anyone else -- and Gephardt considers that a victory.

By 9.16.03

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Poor Dick Gephardt. Just when it appeared he was gaining some traction in Iowa and with his labor endorsements, former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean has to come around and spoil everything. Some polls show Dean burying Gephardt in Iowa, while Dean also appears to gaining in popularity in organized labor homes there. As reported in the Prowler, he has been gaining some personal endorsements from Iowa labor leaders, and in the past week, Dean won a vote of more than 1,500 Service Employees International Union members, who gathered to hear most of the Democrats spout off for their endorsement.

In the end, Gephardt didn't rate as one of the top two in the SEIU balloting, and union head Andrew Stern pulled the plug on the endorsement. "When Dean won," says and AFL-CIO lobbyist, who was tracking the SEIU conference, "Stern held a board meeting and suggested that an endorsement be put off until later in the year. Dean's people were pushing hard for an announcement, but Gephardt's people were more successful in having the endorsement announcement delayed."

Over the next few weeks, Gephardt is going to be scrambling to show organized labor it won't be wasting its support on a man who can't win. Meanwhile, Dean is feeling cocky about where his campaign is going. After the SEIU vote, in which Sen. John Edwards finished a surprising second, Dean made a point of taking Edwards on during candidate forums and on the stump.

"He feels right now no one can touch him," says a Dean staffer. "He's pulling in money like there is no tomorrow. He's winning every poll out there. Everyone is running against him. It's pretty neat."

Meanwhile, the Stern and the SEIU is trying to figure out how best to handle the Dean situation. Many believed Stern, who would one day like to head the overall AFL-CIO, wanted an early endorsement so that he could play kingmaker among labor's fractious membership. Touting Dean now might have done just that. But Stern, like just about every other labor leader, is trying to gauge just how strong Dean can be leading into the winter months.

"Everyone is waiting to see if Kerry and Edwards and even Gephardt can get a second wind," says the AFL-CIO lobbyist. There is still lots of time, and while Stern would like to have his guy, he's not willing to go that far out on a limb, unless Dean makes some remarkable promises to him. And Dean isn't in a position to do that ... yet."

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