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Dean loses endorsement from major labor union

Dean speaks at a roundtable discussion at the University of Wisconsin Friday.
Dean tries to build support at the University of Wisconsin roundtable discussion.

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(CNN) -- Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean lost the backing of a major labor union Saturday when the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees withdrew its endorsement, Dean campaign officials told CNN.

The announcement came as Dean slipped behind Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in early returns in Washington's Democratic caucuses, which Dean had hoped would give his faltering campaign a new spark. CNN projected Kerry the winner of that contest Saturday night.

AFSCME, with about 1.4 million members, endorsed Dean in November, citing his record as Vermont governor, his position on the issues and the strength of his campaign. But union leader Gerald McEntee told Dean in a meeting Saturday in Burlington, Vermont, that his union was withdrawing its support, campaign aides said.

Dean was the front-runner in national polls of Democratic presidential candidates at the time AFSCME endorsed him, but he has yet to win a single primary contest. His campaign was expected to release a statement on the issue Saturday night.

Dean's other major backer in the labor movement, the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union, will stick with him, a union official told CNN.

On Friday, Dean left open the possibility he would accept a vice presidential nomination on a Democratic presidential ticket, a move that is unusual for candidates seeking to appear presidential.

His comments came during a campaign interview for the February 17 Wisconsin primary with a Milwaukee radio station on Friday.

Asked by radio station WMCS whether he would accept the vice presidential slot, Dean replied, "I would, to the extent, do anything I could to get rid of President Bush. I'll do whatever is best for the party. Obviously, I'm running for president, but whatever's best is what I'll do. Anything."

"We've just got to change presidents," he said. "We're really hurting right now."

On Saturday, he told NBC's Today Show that he is still running for the presidential nomination but will do whatever is necessary to beat George Bush. Dean also said he would run with Kerry, if Kerry becomes the nominee, but thinks that would be poor strategy.

"Let me say that if John Kerry is the nominee I'm going to support him," Dean said. "Second of all, if John Kerry were the nominee, I'd advise him not to pick me because you don't need two people from New England on the ticket. I will do whatever I can to beat George Bush."

Dean's comments separate him from fellow presidential hopefuls Sen. John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, both of whom have said they would not run as vice president.

Kerry's lead in total delegates over other Democratic candidates could grow Saturday -- when participants in Washington and Michigan caucuses make their choices.

To date in the Democratic race, Kerry has captured 271 delegates, compared with 121 for Dean, 107 for Edwards, 80 for Clark, five for New York civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and two for Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

Dean was the national front-runner in polls and fund raising before placing third in the Iowa caucuses and second in the New Hampshire primary. He has had no victories in the nine states to choose nominees so far. In several he placed only in single digits.

He has made a strategic decision to concentrate campaign efforts on the Wisconsin race. Dean told reporters in a conference call Thursday his campaign is focusing on the Badger State because of its "strong connections to Wisconsin's progressive politics."

He said his goal is to be one of two candidates left standing after the Wisconsin primary. Earlier, a Dean fund-raising e-mail said Wisconsin is a must-win state for the former governor and "anything less will put us out of the race."

CNN Political Editor John Mercurio and Producer Sasha Johnson contributed to this report.

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