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Gore, Bradley court labor for 2000

By David Ensor/CNN

February 19, 1999
Web posted at: 5:59 p.m. EST (2259 GMT)

MIAMI (AllPolitics, February 19) -- Vice President Al Gore reached out Friday to a crucial element of the Democratic party's political base: Labor.

Gore, at the AFL-CIO executive council meeting in Miami, was on a roll, knowing that with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt out of the race, he is on track to get labor's endorsement for president in 2000.

"Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize," Gore told the labor leaders.

In the weeks since Gephardt decided not to seek the nomination, aides say Gore has talked to hundreds of Gephardt's supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire, asking them to work for him.

"He comes with an enormous amount of good will," said Andy Stern of the AFL-CIO's political committee. "I mean, people have really seen him stand up in strikes and organizing drives and things that most vice presidents of the United States have never done, and that is enormously appreciated and gives him a lot of credit."

But Gore needs more than just support from labor. He needs enthusiasm, thousands of people willing to go door to door for him. That will be harder.

"Gore needs labor a lot," said Democratic political consultant Bob Beckel. "The question is how much does labor need Gore? And I think if they had their choice, they would prefer another candidate. I mean, Gore has never been labor's top choice. But compared to what they would get in the Republican party and because Gore is a prohibitive favorite to get the Democratic nomination, labor needs Gore."

Organized labor's key difference with Gore is about trade. Labor fought a losing battle against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now Gore supports giving the president fast-track authority to negotiate more free trade agreements. The AFL-CIO fears that could mean exporting more American jobs overseas.

Gore minimizes the conflict.

"Just as I have never asked them to change their basic beliefs in cases where we might disagree, I know they wouldn't expect me to do that either," Gore said.

And he knows it is not likely now to be much of an issue in the Democratic primaries. Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, also came here courting labor, but as a senator Bradley voted for NAFTA.

"I don't mind being the underdog," Bradley said. "If you're the overdog, you play cautious and you don't want to make a mistake. If you're the underdog you can be bolder, you're more flexible, and I think that this is going to be a very interesting year."

And then Gore has the Republicans to worry about. Polls so far put both Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole ahead of Gore. "I don't put much stock in polls," Gore said.

The AFL-CIO leaders have asked member unions to not endorse anyone for president until after August, although a couple of them have already announced for Gore. Unions hardly need to give the vice president much incentive to embrace most of their goals, and he knows he will need labor's money, organizing skills and shoe leather if he is to stay in the White House beyond 2000.


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Friday, February 19, 1999

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