IN THE LOOP
Rep. Dick Gephardt traveled to Chicago hoping to come away Wednesday with an endorsement from the full AFL-CIO, but left partially empty-handed, after organize labor’s executive board chose not to issue an full endorsement until later in the year.
The message, however, coming out of Chicago was that whether it is Gephardt or John Kerry or a candidate yet to enter the race, the AFL-CIO’s endorsement is theirs.
After almost two and half years of attempting to nurture some kind of relationship with big labor, whether it be through the Teamsters or one of the lesser regional unions, the Bush campaign will again face unified labor opposition in 2004.
“There is no way the Democrats weren’t going to come out of here of some sense of where they were with us,” said an AFL-CIO congressional lobbyist who attended the big labor’s Chicago convention. “This was all about getting the party focused on the race ahead, not necessarily about any individual candidate.”
One Democrat who had to be happy about the Chicago meeting was California Gov. Gray Davis, who came away with a full endorsement from the union conglomerate which also scared off Sen. Dianne Feinstein from entering the recall race. Feinstein has not gotten along well with the AFL-CIO for years, and as the days have gone by what has become abundantly clear in California is that a Democrat has to have the backing of the AFL-CIO if he is to have a shot. According to the AFL-CIO lobbyist, the union may have committed as much as $10 million to the California race to ensure that Davis or some other Democrat will hold on to the governor’s mansion.
As with just about every AFL-CIO meeting for the past decade, the star of the convention was former president Bill Clinton, who spoke in a closed session on Monday and told the crowd that President Bush was extremely beatable if Democrats properly framed the economy and the war in Iraq. Clinton also met privately with Davis and is said by Democratic insiders to have committed to at least two additional visits to California over the next 30 days to help Davis fundraise and get out the vote.
Just how critical organized labor is to the Democrats’ political hopes became clear on Monday afternoon when in private meetings AFL-CIO leadership discussed shifting as much as $20 million to $30 million from the AFL-CIO general budget into political operations to offset Republican fundraising around the country. If for some reason the union chooses not to draw on the money it already has in its account, it has discussed levying a new set of surcharges on affiliate members to add to its political warchest.
BOXER PUNCHES BACK
Sen. Barbara Boxer apparently isn’t inclined to play ball with the likes of Willie Brown and Dianne Feinstein. Boxer is one of few Democrats who has unequivocally stated that another prominent Democrat should run in the recall election of Gray Davis. Perhaps upset that she was not mentioned as a possibility, Boxer broke with her fellow Democrats just days after DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe had made it clear he did not want dissension in Democratic ranks as he cleared the field for Davis.
Boxer is not expected to face much of a challenge in her upcoming Senate re-election race, though if Arnold Schwarzenegger should manage to win the recall she may begin to worry about a Republican comeback in a state-wide race.