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AFL-CIO backs Obama candidacy

June 27, 2008|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH — Barack Obama consolidated his organized labor support Thursday with an AFL-CIO endorsement that puts much of Hillary Rodham Clinton's union muscle behind his bid for the White House.

Obama's newly enlarged labor coalition could help the presumptive Democratic nominee appeal to some union constituencies that favored Clinton, including blue-collar whites in the Rust Belt and Latinos in the Southwest.

The AFL-CIO praised Obama's agenda on healthcare, trade, retirement security and collective bargaining rights. "Sen. Obama has advocated a change of direction for our nation that mirrors the priorities of the labor movement," the union's board said in a statement.

The AFL-CIO and its 56 unions vowed to spend at least $200 million in support of Obama and more than 500 other candidates in the November election. The federation also pledged to put 250,000 volunteers to work. It identified its top-priority states as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"Labor leaders in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio who can build bridges between the Obama campaign and white union members are indispensable," said Lawrence R. Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. "It may be the most important set of relationships for Obama to carry those industrial states."

This will be the first presidential contest to test labor's political strength in the wake of its 2005 split into two competing factions. Change to Win, a coalition of unions with 6 million members, endorsed Obama in February and helped him capture the Democratic nomination. The other faction, the AFL-CIO, which represents 10 million members, was divided between Clinton and Obama.

Change to Win Chairwoman Anna Burger said she hoped the AFL-CIO would work closely with its rival. Local branches of each coalition cooperated with great success in the 2006 midterm elections.

Karen Ackerman, political director of the AFL-CIO, predicted extensive cooperation between the two. "There is a great deal of unity at the base where members are -- local to local," she said. "Our position is: The more unified the labor movement is, the better."

In the 2004 race for the White House, a huge union push for Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry failed to offset President Bush's mobilization of conservative voters, particularly white evangelicals.

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michael.finnegan@ latimes.com

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