Team effort for Gephardt
By Mark H. Rodeffer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Teamsters this weekend are scheduled to unveil their first caucus program in Iowa, an effort to deliver an early victory to Rep. Dick Gephardt in what is a must-win state for the Missouri Democrat.
Some 300 union leaders from Iowa have been attending caucus workshops since Tuesday, and 350 more from other states are in Des Moines to lay the groundwork for a national Teamsters campaign for Gephardt.
The pro-Gephardt effort is to be capped off Saturday in Des Moines at a rally with the candidate and Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.
The union is hoping for a turnout of 600 to 800 people at the rally, spokesman Rob Black said.
The planned Iowa effort is unprecedented for the union. Fifteen caucus-training programs are slated for the next month alone.
"In the past, it's been a press conference and some money," Mike Mathis, the Teamsters government affairs director, told the Grind. "We didn't commit to educating members and their families and putting in a real get-out-the-vote effort. We've always just been part of what the AFL-CIO did."
But in this primary battle, the AFL-CIO isn't backing a candidate.
To counter that, the Teamsters plan to expand their caucus organization to other unions in Iowa. The definite plans and timetable for the expansion are not yet complete, and the union is taking its time to make sure they stay within campaign finance laws, sources said.
The first priority, though, is convincing the Teamsters' rank-and-file that Gephardt is their man.
To that end, according to Mathis, the union plans seven waves of mailings to its 27,000 members in the state.
In addition to that 200,000 or so pieces of mail, Hoffa will make "at least a couple rounds" of recorded phone messages to Iowa Teamsters.
The union also has two full-time staffers in the state visiting union shops to talk up Gephardt. Mathis said talking to union members at work is the most effective way to communicate with them.
Teamsters on the long haul
After making the case for a President Gephardt, the Teamsters plan a sustained effort to actually get their members to caucus sites on January 19.
"We are going to make sure that once they've gone to the training that we call to remind them where they need to be on caucus night," said Christy Bailey, the Teamsters' national field coordinator. "We'll provide them rides if they need them, we'll do whatever we have to do to make sure no one misses a caucus because they have a flat tire."
For now, the union isn't offering predictions on how many Teamsters they will be able to turnout.
"We'd like to turn out probably 30,000 caucus-goers for Gephardt," Mathis said. "How many of that need to be union members, we're not sure yet."
Bailey offered an optimistic estimate. "If we could get half of [the 27,000 Teamsters in Iowa] participating that would be fabulous," she said.
Gephardt press secretary Erik Smith told the Grind he knew little about the Teamsters' Iowa plans, but added: "We're overjoyed. They're indispensable."