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Gore, Gephardt Go A'Courting Labor -- Feb. 18, 1997

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Gephardt's Labor 'Marker' Wins Play Of The Week

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 21) -- Ready for campaign 2000?

play of the week

It may have started this week, when the two hottest contenders for the Democratic nomination faced off before a key Democratic constituency: organized labor.

Union members accounted for a quarter of the delegates at last year's Democratic convention.

When Dick Gephardt ran for president back in 1988, he rallied labor support by expressing skepticism about free trade. Now a free-trade Democrat is in the White House, but Gephardt's criticisms have not let up. As House minority leader, Gephardt led the unsuccessful movement to block the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.


This week, Gephardt spent four days cultivating union leaders at the AFL-CIO winter meeting in Los Angeles. Labor strongly opposes the president's request for authority to extend NAFTA to Chile and other countries in South America.

This week, Gephardt told labor: I'm still on your side. He even took a day trip to Mexico to dramatize the exploitation of workers and the failure of environmental safeguards under NAFTA.

"You have the prospect of the maquiladoras, of someone leaving a gleaming new factory working in the highest technology available in the world, and going home to live in a shack with no running water and no sewer and no electricity," Gephardt said.


The very same day Gephardt spoke, Vice President Al Gore showed up at the labor meeting bearing the kinds of gifts only a White House, not a congressional minority leader, can bestow.

"Today we're going to start changing the rules on federal contracting to make it clear that part of having the kind of integrity and business ethics and performance capabilities that we expect of a federal contractor is having a satisfactory record of labor relations," Gore said.

Gore, of course, is the frontrunner for the next Democratic nomination. Vice presidents always are. And they usually get it. But never without a fight. Richard Nixon had to fight for the nomination in 1960, as did Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984 and George Bush in 1988.

So will Gore in 2000.


Remember, Clinton and Gore are a package. If Clinton is discredited -- by, say, a recession -- Gore is discredited. Gephardt wants to be the candidate who says, "I told you so." He laid down his marker this week with organized labor. His marker is NAFTA. We'll call it the political Play of the Week, even though Gephardt may lose the NAFTA battle again.

But the issue gives Gephardt traction in the race against Gore. Which is more than anybody else has.

Gephardt also voted against welfare reform last year, as did half the Democrats in Congress. That's another chit he can cash in if things go bad for Clinton. But rememeber, NAFTA and welfare reform are only markers. If things do not go bad for President Clinton, Gore takes the pot.

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