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Labor Endorsement a Victory for Struggling Gore Campaign

By Jonathan Weisman
THE BALTIMORE SUN -- WASHINGTON

Sparing Vice President Al Gore a major political embarrassment, the 13 million-member AFL-CIO appears likely to endorse Gore over former Sen. Bill Bradley Wednesday for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Gore, who once took the powerful labor federation’s early support for granted, plans to appear in person at the AFL-CIO’s convention in Los Angeles to pick up the coveted endorsement.

The endorsement, a major victory for the vice president’s limping campaign, would be the federation’s earliest since its leaders backed Walter Mondale in 1983 in his campaign against President Reagan.

Federation leaders announced Monday they would almost immediately launch a $40 million effort to mobilize political support for their preferred candidates in the 2000 election. Rather than plow union money into political attack advertisements, AFL-CIO political leaders hope to energize their members at the grass roots.

But perhaps more importantly, an AFL-CIO endorsement would grant Gore a respite from the bad news that has dogged his campaign. Gore aides have stressed for months the importance of the labor endorsement.

“Obviously, it’s something the vice president’s campaign expected, anticipated, and told everyone they would get,” said Anita Dunn, a campaign adviser for Bradley, Gore’s only rival for the Democratic nomination. “So it’s not really a surprise.”

Bradley, however, had lobbied strenuously to block an early endorsement of Gore. He personally implored union leaders to delay the vote, hoping his campaign’s momentum would eventually persuade them that he was the Democrats’ best hope for keeping the White House for another four years. Gore convinced the AFL-CIO’s senior leadership that he needed organized labor’s support now in order to prepare for a front-loaded primary-and-caucus season that is expected to be decided by March 7.

And AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, playing a decisive role, pushed his organization’s member unions to endorse the vice president. Sweeney, a Gore ally, “really leaned into it,” a Gore aide conceded, privately twisting arms, then publicly declaring that Gore had wrapped up the endorsement.

Bradley aides refused to concede defeat in the endorsement fight.