What Will Labor Do With Edwards Out Of The Race?

One interesting aspect -- and an important one that has gotten very little coverage in the media -- is what happens now to the labor support that John Edwards had. I suspect that the campaigns of both Sens. Clinton and Obama are working the phones hard to try to grab union support, particularly for Super Tuesday states.

The biggest prize out there is the Service Employees International Union. Back in October, SEIU decided not to make a national endorsement and allow its state councils to make their own choices. I doubt, based on a few conversations with some people in the know, that that is going to change -- the union's leadership was split into three factions, though I'm told that the most passionate supporters were those who supported Edwards and Obama, with a third faction, primarily from New York, simply feeling strongly, not with passion per se, that they would not, and could not, snub their home-state senator.

I took a guess back in October where SEIU locals would end up -- some of it was actually right... I was wrong, for example, about Nevada which supported Obama.

The biggest prize right now is the SEIU California folks since the state is such a rich-delegate target and SEIU is active in areas of the state, particularly Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where there is likely to be a very heated district-by-district fight. And they are big, representing more than 650,000 members. And they can communicate with a hell of a lot of people. And, remember, this key fact: if an SEIU state council endorses X candidate, it can send activists to the same states where other state councils have endorsed the same candidate.

And the others?

The Mineworkers: this might be a union that tips over to Sen. Clinton but hard to tell from the statement from the union's president, Cecil Roberts, who seems pretty unimpressed with the other two, or at least, doesn't seem to be leaning either way:

"The news that former Sen. John Edwards (N.C) is ending his campaign for president of the United States is disappointing but not unexpected. Sen. Edwards was campaigning against candidates who had huge campaign warchests and who were able to dominate the media coverage as the campaign moved forward.

"Without Sen. Edwards in the race, we wonder about several things: Which candidate will now take up the cause of the millions of working families who have been so callously pushed aside by the current administration? Which candidate will speak so eloquently about the clear link between rebuilding the middle class and restoring the right to organize?

"Which candidate will stop giving away America's best jobs to foreign competitors by ending unfair trade deals that destroy American industries and communities while keeping foreign workers in poverty?

"And of critical importance for us, which candidate will demand safer and healthier workplaces in America, especially in America's coal mines? These are the questions we will be seeking answers to as this campaign moves forward.

"I spoke to Sen. Edwards earlier today and told him that we will miss his strong voice in the national debate about these and other issues. We sincerely hope that the ideas he advanced will be taken up by the remaining candidates, because these issues have not gone away, nor will they.

"American working families need a President who will be on our side again. I believe that either of the remaining Democratic candidates can be that person. The question now is, will they step up to the plate?"

The Steelworkers: another early and enthusiastic supporter of Edwards. Here is what the union's president, Leo Gerard, had to say:

Senator Edwards proposed the first and most formidable plan to fix the nation's broken health care system, and he has unquestionably been the most forceful advocate among the viable candidates for changes to the so-called "free trade" policies that are undermining the economic security of millions of Americans.

We will miss hearing the voice of a candidate who has been unabashed in stating that the growth of the nation's labor movement through passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is essential for revitalizing the nation's beleaguered middle class, not to mention his morally uplifting commitment to address the needs of millions of citizens living in poverty.

We take special pride in the decency with which he and his wonderful wife Elizabeth have advanced the cause of working Americans, and trust that they will continue to work for this important cause in the years to come," Gerard added. "The focus he brought back to the poverty of those living in New Orleans -- especially its impoverished 9th Ward -- speaks to the commitment the Edwards family has to giving voice to those in need.

The USW said it would engage in internal discussions with its leadership about the choices facing the union now that Senator Edwards has dropped out of the race. No decisions are anticipated, the union said, before its International Executive Board meeting in February.

I doubt that either the Mineworkers or the Steelworkers will do anything before Super Tuesday (obviously, for the Steelworkers, since the exec board doesn't meet before Super Tuesday). But, both these unions could play a very important role in what everyone seems to acknowledge will be a long, drawn out fight for delegates well past Super Tuesday. First, the unions play a role in influencing super-delegates.

Second, there are some critical states voting after Super Tuesday where both unions have lots of members, particularly retirees: Virgina (February 12th); Ohio (March 4th--a big prize of 161 delegates); Pennsylvania (April 22nd--a big pot of 188 delegates where Sen. Clinton already has the support of Gov. Ed Rendell); West Virginia (May 13th--39); and Kentucky (May 20th--60 delegates).

Communications Workers of America: Edwards had support, for example, from the CWA in Nevada (though the union doesn't have a huge membership there). But, the national did not support any candidate to date.

The Carpenters: This was the first Change To Win union to come out very early for Edwards. I'm going to guess that they do nothing before Super Tuesday, if at all.