At Your Service:The Service Employee International Union's Iowa state council is endorsing John Edwards today. But to hear the campaign talk about it, you'd think he'd won the union's full endorsement. (He didn't; they decided last week against a nationwide endorsement.)
A spokesman called it "great, great news" for Edwards and a "huge defeat for the Clinton campaign" in a conference call with reporters. He even said it proves Edwards' electability—a point the Edwards camp has been pushing for some time but that still falls just short of persuasive.
The endorsement is a victory, no doubt. But it's unclear whether it will have the huge effect Edwards seems to expect. In 2004, Howard Dean slipped in Iowa despite getting the much-touted AFSCME endorsement, not to mention the SEIU's. (A spokesman said Edwards' ground organization is much better than Dean's was.) And the campaign's point about electability is ironic, considering that many SEIU members lean toward Hillary and Obama because they perceived Edwards to be less electable. Hence Edwards' failure to get the whole union's endorsement last week. They were likely wary of a replay of 2004, when Dean's campaign imploded soon after getting the SEIU stamp of approval.
An Edwards campaign spokesman had a different take on why Edwards didn't get the full endorsement: Obama and Clinton represent states with strong SEIU membership—more than 250,000 in New York and 100,000 in Illinois. Therefore, he argued, it was hard for Edwards to command the 60 percent supermajority he needed to win the union's nationwide backing.
The Iowa SEIU has only 2,000 members, but 2,000 dedicated people (and their families) can make a big difference in the caucuses. Plus, SEIU rules allow volunteers from other states who endorse Edwards to work on the Iowa campaign. This influx could give Edwards a much-needed tool against the Obama and Clinton juggernauts in Iowa, especially if he wins California, which has more SEIU members than any other state.
Update, Oct. 16, 2007: Edwards also managed to rope in endorsements from nine other states' SEIU groups Monday, including California, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Ohio, and Washington. Their memberships total over a million—more than half the SEIU's total membership of 1.9 million. If significant numbers of volunteers pitch in in Iowa, this could make a big difference. A student organizer from the University of Iowa writes in: "I heard a couple people call this the most important Edwards event of the entire cycle, and I'm not sure that's overshooting too far. The amount of paid professional organizing staff in just this area has basically doubled. ... The local Coralville office (that's the SEIU 199 home base) has completely automated computer call-filtering, whereas the local and regional presidential offices are still doing voter contact calls with spreadsheet printouts and a pen. ... Edwards staff and volunteers now have access to tons of resources that they wouldn't have had otherwise." Maybe spending limits won't hurt him as much as we thought.
Friday, Oct. 12, 2007