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Signs Point to Teamster Backing for Gore

Politics: Decision is expected today after Hoffa confers with the union's board. The labor organization has already decided not to support Bush.


The Teamsters union may throw its hefty weight behind Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore today, after months of dangling an endorsement before both major parties.

Spokesman Bret Caldwell said a decision would be made this afternoon after Teamsters President James P. Hoffa confers with the union's 24-member board by telephone from New York. The 1.4-million-member union already has ruled out backing any other candidate, including Republican George W. Bush. "The decision is between a non-endorsement and Gore," Caldwell said.

The Teamsters would be the last major union to announce a presidential endorsement this year. The AFL-CIO, a federation that represents 68 unions with 13 million members, gave the Gore campaign an early boost by announcing its backing in October. Most international unions quickly followed suit, but several held back, citing concerns over Gore's support for free trade. Just last month, days before the Democratic National Convention, the United Auto Workers gave Gore its blessing.

The backing of unions, with their pools of highly organized volunteers, could be crucial in the close race expected this November. And Gore, who has touted his strong pro-labor voting record in Congress, has wooed rank-and-file members at scores of campaign stops.

Underscoring the importance of a Teamsters nod, Gore's running mate, Joseph I. Leiberman, put in a call to Hoffa the weekend he was named to the ticket. Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway said Wednesday, "We would be delighted with an endorsement from the Teamsters. Obviously, it is a very important organization for working people."

The Teamsters union also is among the most mercurial when it comes to presidential politics. The union has endorsed Republicans in the past--Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and Vice President George Bush in 1988. After backing Bill Clinton in 1992, the Teamsters withheld any endorsement in 1996.

This political season, Hoffa has been particularly coy. He held a press conference with Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader in June, calling for his inclusion in presidential debates, and a month later, put in an appearance at the Republican National Convention, where he was honored at a cocktail party by prominent legislators.

Hoffa was a delegate at the Democratic convention, but in a round of interviews with reporters, insisted it was too early to make a decision. He said the union was polling its membership. Caldwell said the results of that poll, which asked 1,000 members for their preferences, would be shared with Teamster board members during today's conference call but would not be made public.

Shortly after the endorsement call, Hoffa is expected to appear at a rally for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for a New York Senate seat.

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