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The Nation

Edwards Gains Key Union Endorsements

John Nichols

John Edwards had a very good Labor Day.

At a rally in Pittsburgh, the populist candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination received the endorsements of two of the nation's most progressive unions, the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers. Those endorsements come just days after he gained the backing of the powerful Carpenters union, and they signal what many believe will be a surge in labor endorsements for the former North Carolina Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president.

Aides to Edwards, who has aimed his message at labor from the start of the current campaign, say they expect more important union endorsements of their candidate in coming days and weeks.

The Service Employees and the Teamsters -- both million-plus member powerhouses of the American labor movement -- are said to be close to coming out for Edwards, as is the Laborers union, a key player in the building and construction trades sector. Edwards is also expected to gain the endorsement of the United Auto Workers -- thanks in no small part to the work of former Michigan Congressman David Bonier, a stalwart ally of labor who is helping organize the campaign. The UAW backing would come despite some recent criticisms of SUVs by the candidate that have not set well with leaders of a union that represents workers who still make a lot of those vehicles.

Edwards is likely to get the most individual union backing in a race where the nation's two labor federations, the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition, are not likely to make formal endorsements.

Edwards won't get all unions with him, however.

Out of a tactical desire to be with the front runner, the Machinists and the United Transportation Union have gone with New York Senator Hillary Clinton. The Firefighters are backing a longtime ally of their union, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

But Edwards is opening the lead he will need among unions if he is to be a serious contender after the the caucuses in Iowa -- where he is running strongest and where, frankly, he must win to stay in the race.


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Tom Harkin, Dick Gephardt and other labor-beloved also rans can attest that union support does not guarantee that Edwards will be able to make it all the way to the nomination, or even that he will be able to maintain a candidacy to the end of a race in which he is seen as trailing Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

But, if Edwards can win Iowa, union support will be essential in later-voting states such as Michigan and Ohio, where the auto workers are strong, and Pennsylvania, where the steelworkers are a major presence. And if he gets the Service Employees, he will enjoy a boost boost in California, where the union is a powerful political force in the Los Angeles area and beyond.

The former senator knows how much he needs the unions.

That's why a delighted Edwards was in downtown Pittsburgh Monday to tell a thousand cheering steelworkers and mineworkers that, "America was not built on Wall Street. America was built by steelworkers and mine workers."

He is right about that.

Now, the question is whether those unions -- and some even larger ones -- can build the "Edwards for President" campaign into a winning proposition.

John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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