Image: Barack Obama
Charlie Neibergall  /  AP
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks during a town hall meeting Thursday in Indianola, Iowa.
updated 5/11/2007 1:32:23 PM ET 2007-05-11T17:32:23

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama told unionized firefighters Friday that he would stand behind them and provide the wages and resources they deserve—and that others in Washington would not.

“They’ll praise your work in speeches, they’ll honor you as heroes in words, but when it comes to deeds, they make it harder for you to do your job,” Obama said, speaking by phone to the International Association of Fire Fighters leadership convention. “Instead of making your job easier, they create other kinds of fires you have to put out.”

The Illinois senator was the second of six potential 2008 Democratic hopefuls to address the powerful union’s leaders during a two-day meeting in the state with the earliest primary. Obama said he wanted to attend, but was in Iowa, another early voting state.

“On the campaign trail, he’s reaching out to firefighters and others to hear their stories. He’s using what he’s heard from them for the foundation of his policies and proposals,” said Rick Merrill, head of the Illinois IAFF. “We’ve seen him grow from a local legislator to a prominent national figure.”

Later Friday, union leaders were slated to hear in person from Sens. Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards.

Obama’s comments echoed those of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who told the group Thursday that, unlike some other contenders, he has a strong record of supporting unions.

‘I’ll always be with you’
“There are a lot of candidates who will come up and take a picture with you and make you promises, but when it’s time to deliver, maybe they’ll be with you. ... I’ll always be with you,” Richardson said.

Two months ago, 11 candidates spoke to more than 1,000 union members in Washington. The New Hampshire convention involved only a few dozen union leaders from around the country, a move they hope will allow them to evaluate the candidates more informally. The union will not endorse anyone until August, at the earliest.

An IAFF survey after the March gathering showed high marks for Clinton, Edwards, Dodd and Biden, along with Richardson. Delegates were decidedly unimpressed by Obama.

“It was a reflection of one performance on one day,” said IAFF President Harold Schaitberger.

Obama said Friday his March remarks were somber, but shouldn’t be construed as a lack of excitement to work with firefighters.

“If I need to fire folks up, I can do it,” Obama said. “I’ve heard I can give a pretty good speech.”

The union backed John Kerry in 2003.

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