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Clinton, Edwards pick up Big Labor support

  • Story Highlights
  • Major government union endorses Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign
  • New Hampshire service employees union backs John Edwards
  • Unions provide critical "ground troops" for campaigns
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By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Washington bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Score one for Sen. Hillary Clinton and score one for John Edwards. Both Democratic presidential candidates picked up major union endorsements Wednesday.

Sen. Hillary Clinton dons boxing gloves while accepting the AFSCME endorsement Wednesday.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees endorsed Clinton for president. AFSCME's nod is considered a major achievement for the Democratic senator from New York.

The union's endorsement was one of the most sought after by the Democratic presidential hopefuls and, with another influential union -- the Service Employees International Union -- refraining from granting a national endorsement, AFSCME's nod becomes even more of a prize.

The union is the largest for workers in the public sector, with 1.4 million members across the nation.

Clinton accepted AFSCME's endorsement at an event in Washington Wednesday. Donning a pair of red boxing gloves, Clinton told the audience, "when it comes to fighting for America's families, I'll go 10 rounds with anybody." Video Watch Clinton vow to fight for American families »

The union's president, Gerald McEntee, told the crowd of AFSCME members "this is no time to take chances. We need someone who knows how to fight and indeed knows how to win."

"Sen. Clinton is a seasoned fighter," continued McEntee. "Believe me, she knows how to fight, and she knows how to win."

AFSCME provides Clinton with another major union endorsement. She has already received the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and Allied Craftworkers and the United Transportation Union, among others.

Union endorsements are important. They mean an infusion of support for the campaigns, especially ground troops to help get out the vote.

But they don't always mean victory. AFSCME and SEIU both endorsed Howard Dean for president. Two months later, after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean dropped out of the race for the White House.

"Organized labor wants to avoid a 2004 repeat, when union endorsements didn't bring victory to either Richard Gephardt or Howard Dean," said CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Gephardt captured more union endorsements than any other candidate, but the former House Democratic leader gave up his bid for the White House after a poor finish in the Iowa caucuses.

While Clinton was grabbing AFSCME's endorsement in Washington, Edwards was receiving his own union endorsement in New Hampshire, the state that holds the nation's first primary.

Edwards accepted the official backing of the Service Employee's International Union's Granite State chapter. The former senator from North Carolina won the endorsement in a very close vote over Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. Edwards has already been endorsed by the union's Iowa chapter.

Edwards campaign manager, former Rep. David Bonior, said the endorsement is important because "we believe all eyes are on New Hampshire right now."


Edwards has also been endorsed by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the United Steelworkers of America, the United Mine Workers of America and the Transport Workers Union.

Obama has been endorsed by the Officers' Benevolent Association as well as the Illinois and Indiana chapters of the service employees union. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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