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January 11, 2003

Dean Zooms into Contention

Howard Dean, just departed governor of Vermont, just became a heavy-hitter in the race for the Democratic nomination for President.

Relatively unnoted in the media was Dean's award by the AFL-CIO of its new "Paul Wellstone" award for service to the labor movement. That the labor federation chose to give it to an active contender for the nomination should send other candidates into fits. This is how the AFL-CIO described Dean:

Governor Dean supported the nurses at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington -- Vermont’s largest hospital system -- when they began to form a union with the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals (AFT) to address issues of patient care and having a voice on the job. Dean appeared with the nurses at a rally at the hospital at which he urged the hospital to honor their choice regarding a union and wrote a letter to the nurses in which he wrote, “If I were a nurse, I would vote to unionize.” Dean is a physician who trained at the hospital before becoming governor. Nurses from Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont will travel to Washington, DC to present Dean with the award on Friday.
MyDD, a Dean partisan, had a guest column on the event. Picture courtesy of him.

Dean already has the whole "Jed Bartlett" small New England governor thing going for him, and as one of the only non-Beltway candidates, he has that advantage. But if he adds in the troops from an AFL-CIO endorsement in fall 2003, he could actually take this thing.

It's worth noting that the other candidates have some serious problems, especially around trade issues, with getting that endorsement:

  • Gephardt has strong loyalty from years of pro-union advocacy but his failures in taking back the House may just make him seem old news.
  • John Kerry has a good labor record but has an achilles heel-- he supported "fast track" legislation which labor strongly opposed.
  • John Edwards has a very good labor record, especially for a southern Senator, but did support permanent normal trade status for China and expanding H1B visas, work permits without a permanent green card, which labor opposes.
  • Bob Graham of Florida just has a weak labor record all around, especially on trade.

    Notably, in Dean's acceptance speech at the awards dinner, he emphasized two points:

    During the body of the speech, Dean received two standing ovations. The first, for promising not to sign free trade agreements with out environmental or labor protections, was a attempt to draw the labor movement away from former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, who enjoyed strong union support when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988.

    The other ovation for Dean (aside from the finale) was when he announced his commitment to universal health insurance “like every other industrialized country” and denounced the patient’s bill of rights as too much moderation and not enough actual progress. Once again the ovation was no surprise coming from this crowd.

    Labor standards in trade agreements and universal health care may be just the right combo to propel Dean to an AFL-CIO endorsement in the fall. And with that kind of volunteer and financial support, he could take the whole thing.

    With that award, I'd move Dean from second tier to active contender with Edwards and Kerry for the front tier. (Yeah, I don't mention Lieberman, but I don't believe he has a real chance, despite the polls).

    Posted by Nathan at January 11, 2003 09:46 AM

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