WASHINGTON — None of the Democratic presidential primary contenders will get the endorsement they’ve been fervently seeking from the Service Employees International Union, an especially painful blow to John Edwards.
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The union said Monday it won’t choose a national candidate for the primary elections, underscoring divisions that had been apparent among SEIU supporters of Edwards and the Democrats he trails in national polls: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Any one of these candidates would help create a new American dream for workers and their families,” SEIU Secretary Treasurer Anna Burger said.
Instead of making a national endorsement, the union will let its locals make decisions state by state. And to ensure that there are no conflicts, once an SEIU local has chosen a candidate, the union’s activists from that state will be barred from campaigning in states that have chosen someone else.
“Given the importance of this election, we are encouraging members and leaders to act on their passion for the candidates and get involved on a statewide basis,” SEIU President Andy Stern said.
SEIU backing was one of the most important labor endorsements available. The organization has donated more than $25 million, mostly to Democratic candidates, since 1989.
Top candidates sought endorsement
Edwards had hoped a national SEIU endorsement would energize his campaign in the crucial early primary states. The former North Carolina senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee has spent considerable time the past couple of years walking picket lines, speaking out for workers’ rights and seeking labor support.
Clinton and Obama also have been working SEIU hard. The three will now intensify their efforts on the locals in early primary states, hoping to pick up a boost.
“Despite aggressive efforts by the other campaigns to stop any endorsement by SEIU, we are very pleased by the fact that we will gain endorsements of SEIU locals from across America,” Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz said. “It is a victory for the campaign as we now can mobilize the support from SEIU members who enthusiastically support John Edwards’ bold plans for real change in America.”
Instead of spending its money in a primary campaign, the international union will devote its funds to national issues until the Democrats have picked a candidate.
“We will continue to work on issues like health care, the war in Iraq and other issues while our locals decide whether they want to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary,” SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said.
Three clear favorites
The 1.8-million member union winnowed the Democratic field to Clinton, Obama and Edwards after the three were the clear favorites at an SEIU forum in Washington in September. The union delayed an endorsement because of the deep divisions among its members, and delayed the decision again after hearing from the candidates anew in Chicago at the Change to Win labor federation conference.
Only one of the seven Change to Win unions has endorsed a candidate; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners endorsed Edwards earlier this year.
The nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, also is not immediately endorsing a candidate in the Democratic primary. Instead, the AFL-CIO is leaving its 55 member unions to choose for themselves.
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