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Blaze of glory for Dodd?

August 28, 2007 |  6:20 pm

The International Assn. of Fire Fighters took a risk in the 2004 presidential campaign--and in the process significantly raised its national political profile. Now, the union is taking what seems like an even bigger leap of faith in backing a candidate who no doubt fervently hopes that history repeats itself.

Union President Harold Schaitberger will announce in Washington on Wednesday that the group, which boasts more than 280,000 members, is endorsing Chris Dodd in the Democratic presidential race. That should provide a badly needed boost for the Connecticut senator, who is respected within his party but so far has failed to generate any discernible momentum for his White House bid.

The union similarly took a flier almost exactly four years ago on John Kerry, embracing him as their guy at a time when his drive for the Democratic presidential nomination was stuck in neutral. Kerry's prospects grew even bleaker as 2003 played out. But the firefighters stuck with him, even as a parade of unions lined up behind labor stalwart Dick Gephardt and a few huge ones--such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees--backed the race's front-runner, Howard Dean.

The firefighters, however, basked in the afterglow--and saw their political stock soar--when Kerry scored his surprise victory in the 2004 Iowa caucuses and then stormed to the Democratic nomination.

Dodd obviously envisions such a scenario for himself. But overcoming the two leaders in this cycle's contest--Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama--is a much taller order than toppling Dean and Gephardt. And in Iowa, long shots Bill Richardson and Joe Biden have been showing more signs of life than Dodd. Not surprisingly, that's where he will be heading later this week, with Schaitberger at his side (and then it's on to New Hampshire and Nevada for the pair).

Dodd spokesman Hari Sevugan said the campaign views the firefighters as a huge asset in its effort to get out the vote on caucus night. Sevugan added: “If this turns out to be a national security election, having firefighters stand beside you is an incredible validator.”

Dodd, who won his Senate seat in 1980, certainly earned the endorsement. He's carved out a solidly pro-labor record over the years, and wrote legislation that specifically benefited firefighters. Still, Clinton had to be somewhat taken aback by the union's call, especially given the rousing reception she received in a speech to its members in March.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Clinton camp rolled out a competing endorsement Tuesday, announcing that she won the backing of the United Transportation Union. Its membership consists of about 125,000 active and retired railroad, bus and public transit workers.

-- Don Frederick

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