Gephardt Among the Grapefruits - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Gephardt Among the Grapefruits

The AFL-CIO executive board and other senior union hacks are in sunny Florida for meetings, so of course the leadership of the Democratic Party is there, too.

Sen. Tom Daschle on Monday promised the AFL-CIO executive council that Democrats would do everything in their power to slow down the Bush Administration on Capitol Hill. And in return? He simply hoped the unions would appreciate his efforts.

More important than Daschle’s reinforcing that his caucus is bought and paid for by organized labor was the union’s cattle call for presidential candidates. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and John Edwards and Rep. Dick Gephardt were all in Hollywood, Florida, to speechify before the AFL-CIO leadership.

Gephardt is so tight with the leaders, they let him speak twice, first before a larger gathering of union faithful, then before the full executive council. Lieberman and Edwards each spoke once to some of the council membership and their staff.

“Gephardt was good, as good as he we heard he was in Washington,” says an AFL-CIO grassroots political organizer. “If anyone thinks we’re not into him, they’re wrong. Organized labor still loves Gephardt.”

That’s music to Gephardt’s ears. He did make a splash at the DNC winter meetings in Washington last weekend, building on his official announcement earlier last week that he was running again for president. Prior to that, Gephardt had seemingly stalled with the announcement that American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Gerald W. McEntee, who also serves as the AFL-CIO’s political chairman, was telling friends and associates that Sen. John Kerry had the best chance of winning in ’04. He’d made similar predictions about a young governor from Arkansas years ago.

McEntee’s seeming endorsement of Kerry made Gephardt’s unique access to the AFL-CIO governing body all the more important. And by all accounts, he didn’t waste the opportunity.

Edwards, who performed well at the DNC gathering, and Lieberman, who did not, both gave fairly standard stump speeches. “Edwards was probably better,” said an AFL-CIO staffer who saw both. “But Lieberman is known here because of 2000. He doesn’t have to worry. Yet.”

Edwards has recently taken on a heavily populist message, talking about his South Carolina working-class roots, and invoking images of his hard-working father. It’s apparently playing well with the audiences.

Gephardt was the only Democrat not to hang around Hollywood. While Edwards and Lieberman each had fundraisers organized for himself down there unrelated to the AFL-CIO meeting, Gephardt was off to New York to pull in money. It will be his first major fundraiser since announcing his candidacy.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark is, in fact, a Democrat, according to DNC sources, who say that Clark has assured the Arkansas state Democratic Party that it won’t be wasting its time in waiting for him to make a decision about running for president or some other political office in the near future. While Clark has not promoted his political leanings, enough people in the party have asked him that he had to come clean.

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