Edwards fails to score in debate

This was supposed to be John Edwards’ chance to shine, with 17,000 union members eager to be impressed, especially by a presidential candidate who has been actively courting labor support ever since his failed vice presidential run in 2004.

But Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama used the AFL-CIO’s Democratic presidential forum Tuesday night at Soldier Field to fend off their primary rivals hoping to move up in the polls, impress organized labor and maybe land an early primary endorsement.

“I thought the candidates left the forum in exactly the same condition they came in,” said Marick Masters, professor of business administration with the Katz Business School at the University of Pittsburgh. “Clinton and Obama are still the front-runners. The race is still between them. I don’t think Edwards got in any major hits in this stadium.”

Edwards has long staked his campaign on the labor vote, telling the crowd that he has walked 200 picket lines in the past two years. At stake is a possible primary endorsement from the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, or its individual member unions.

Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 candidacy got a major boost from the International Association of Firefighters, whose endorsement kept him in the race after favorites Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt flamed out in the early primaries.

Edwards and the others shot barbs at Clinton in front of a raucous crowd, hoping to score points. “You’ll never see me on the cover of Fortune magazine,” said Edwards, digging at Clinton, who was featured recently on the business publication’s front.

Obama said U.S. trade agreements have tilted against workers because “corporate lobbyists” have had too much influence, a theme he has developed in recent days, especially when alluding to Clinton.

Clinton mostly ignored her rivals, instead touting her ability to challenge Republicans.

“For 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine. And I’ve come out stronger,” Clinton said to applause from the crowd. “If you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I’m your girl.”

Democratic analyst Donna Brazile said Clinton did a great impression of playing Muhammad Ali during the debate, dodging and weaving as her rivals threw punches.

“The other candidates are trying to take a piece of her but failed,” Brazile said. “She can avoid the punches and still land some blows. That speaks volumes on why she’s the front-runner.”

Obama also took hits at the 90-minute debate. Sen. Chris Dodd chided him for recently suggesting he would strike terrorist targets in Pakistan if he had information about the location of al-Qaida terrorists, even without the permission of President Pervez Musharraf.

“General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson,” Dodd said, but he is an ally in the war on terror.

Clinton joined in, saying to Obama, “You should not always say everything you think when you are running for president, because it can have consequences.”

Obama shot back: “I find it amusing that those who voted to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me.”

Clinton and Obama played up their Chicago roots to the local crowd. The first thing Obama mentioned was that they were in the “home of the NFC champions, the Chicago Bears.”

Clinton said her dad, a lifelong Bears fan, would consider that “any of his children would be on the 10-yard line in Soldier Field is an extraordinary accomplishment.”

The wildest cheers were for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s applause lines aimed at the union crowd.

While all the candidates leveled criticism at the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which was enacted by former President Clinton, Kucinich said repeatedly he would withdraw from it and the World Trade Organization.

“No one on stage could give you a straight answer, because they don’t intend to scrap it,” he said.

The true winner at the forum was the AFL-CIO, said Robert Bruno, a professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was originally scheduled for a downtown Chicago convention center but was moved to Soldier Field to handle the number of union families that wanted to attend.

Union families filled the stadium’s north end zone all the way out to the stage at the 10-yard line, wearing colorful union T-shirts and chanting their union’s names before the forum.

“I’m not aware of any political debate in the modern era that was in front of this many members of the same constituency,” Bruno said. That all candidates but former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel attended “shows that there’s still a lot of political relevance in the American labor movement. That’s a pretty interesting statement to be making after all these years of centrist Democratic policies and moderate Democratic candidates.”

While no one likely will garner an early primary endorsement from the AFL-CIO — the executive council was scheduled to meet Wednesday — endorsements from individual unions are prized plums that could break candidates out of the pack. Many unions plan to endorse after Labor Day if the AFL-CIO doesn’t jump into the race.

Unions are important for the money and the foot soldiers they can provide candidates.

In the 2004 elections, organized labor gave $53.6 million to Democratic candidates and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That amount increased to $66 million for the 2006 elections and is expected to increase again for 2008.

The AFL-CIO — which has 55 member unions and represents 10 million workers — said in 2006 that it knocked on 8.25 million doors for union candidates, made 30 million telephone calls, distributed 14 million fliers and sent out 20 million pieces of mail in its successful efforts to help Democrats take the House and Senate.


Jesse J. Holland covers labor and politics for The Associated Press.


  1. lindaj


    Hillary is “the same old same old.” She’s a consummate politician, it seems to me people are looking, in the end, for someone with a fresh point of view, and with aims and goals they state clearly and distinctly. Hillary tend to be “I will change things, sorta.” I want to hear, “I will change things this way, a + b + c.” The pundits quoted in the column above all support individual candidates. Listening to it I thought Edwards and Obama both did well. You press people can slant to Hillary all you want, she’s not new and afraid to be dedicated. I hope the voters in the early primaries do what they often do, give the so-called front runner a reality check. Money and friends in high places and in the press can’t buy my love, though it can buy votes, I guess. I think the press is afraid to make her mad, by saying anything unfavorable, because mad Hillary is vindictive Hillary.

  2. Steve Horn

    Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama – it’s starting to become clear that the Democratic party will once again fail to present a candidate that can be elected – damn I’m sick of lawyers wrecking this country of ours.

  3. LurkingFromTheLeft

    I am with Steve on that one…

    …I lived next to one for too many years – boy did he make my life hell – even beyond my NOW ex-spouse –

    …I was disappointed to hear the talk on MSNBC last night about ‘the ticket’ –

    …I am NOT a fan of HRC at all – have said that here many times – and will continue to do so –

    …I still feel Barack is not all he appears to be –

    …I still am afraid that whoever is put in place to run this dog and pony show will be so screwed –

    …Too much is broken to repair in a snap –

    …Hell, Dumbass ain’t even close to out of office – should he decide to vacate 1600 in January 2009 – how much more will he have ucked fup? –


  4. Carl Nemo

    “Hillary the Lame”…! Has anyone noticed, no matter how redundant, repetitive, non-dynamic her public delivery is concerned the MSM always feats her as being the “all-powerful” democratic contender…?! It’s daytime and you have someone asserting it’s night or vice versa and “we the people” scratch our heads and go “duoh”…! Yep, if they say so, it must be true…not!

    I’m a fairly bright guy and I see through her if she were simply tissue paper in a bright light, and I’ll even give credit to folks with an average IQ of 100 as seeing her as pure b.s. plain and simple; ie., all “smoke and mirrors” rhetoric. She talks the talk, but will “never” walk the walk…! If you think Bushco was bad you’ll get Bushco in spades with “Billary”…!

    Obama nailed it down recently when he said if people are foolish enough to elect her then they are going to get Bush/Cheney Lite…! No truer words have ever been spoken. He was also being “kind”… :)) I can’t even comprehend why she is ever so popular other than the MSM tells us it is so. Annnd, we all know who controls them…no?!

    Their plan is to have “Billary” squaring off against someone like Giuliani;ie, a repub loser, so the electorate will be faced with chosing the lesser of two loser’s in November of 2008. As far as the shadowy, corporate oligarchs are concerned they don’t care if either one of these mattoids wins because they own and control the casino of life;ie., both candidates and their entourage…!

    I surely wish Americans had the courage to do an end-run on these Repub/Dem; “republicrat”, rope-a-dope scenarios, but they won’t. I talk to alot of people on a daily basis, outside my family and close associates and all I can say. the average American is “spring-loaded in the stupid position”. They be grinnin’, they be votin’ and they will surely be screwed… 😐

    Carl Nemo **==

  5. gene

    Carl…”the average American is ‘spring-loaded in the stupid position’.”….hahahahahahahahahahahah..(laughing)hahahahahahah…now thats funny Carl. You stole my punch line or I would like to steal that one.

    I’ve been saying every time I go out and about all I see are “brain dead zombies” looking for their next meal. Walking around with their three foot wide fat f**king asses dragging a bunch of fat stupid kids.

    Last I heard about (70%) of Americans are over weight, many way the hell over weight, as in super morbid obesity. 3,4 and 5 hundred pounders. How can you revolt when all (they) want to do is eat. All Bush and Cheney have to do is keep the local troughs open 24/7.

  6. pupnannie

    If all of you were concerned with the direction this country is going you would not hesitate to elect Hillary Clinton. She is the most experienced on all fronts. If you think there have been too many Clintons in the White House then just think back to what shape this country was in when Clinton was in the White House. Since this “bush” administration has taken over everything has gone down hill. I don’t know how we will withstand another 1 and 1/2 years but I guess we have to. Impeachment of bush would only give us chenney and that, if possible, would be worse. Think now, elect someone with the experience and desire to bring this country back to the high levels it was during the 2 terms of Bill Clinton…that would be Hillary…

  7. SEAL

    Pupnannie, you are correct that we were in much better shape during the Clinton administration. But the tip off to why we should not have another Clinton is NAFTA. That was a death blow to labor in this country. Example: One of the auto big 3 immediately opened a plant in Mexico. The labor force was paid $11.00 a day with no benefits. When they tried to form a union, the leaders were openly killed by mexican government authorities. There are many other examples. Now, Clinton asks for labor’s support?

    I’m not going to go into all the other things Bill Clinton did that most people did not take notice of that were contrary to the image most voters have of him due to his maintaining a healthy economy and a balanced budget with a surplus. But he laid the groundwork for much of what has come to pass under Bush. And have you ever considered that the surplus was created to vacillitate exactly what it was used for? Have you noticed the strong ties the Bush and Cilnton families have maintained the past 6 years?

    I do not agree with those who say Hillary would be worse than Bush but she would be worse than anyone else the democrats have available. The reason the MSM continues to ballyhoo her as the strong frontrunner is because they want her to be the candidate. That should scare you. Anyone supported by the MSM is the wrong person for this country. The MSM is the propaganda machine for the corporate facist state. But take note that the best they can come up with in their suspect polls is 40% for Hillary. That looks good compared to 20 or 10 for the other guy but what it really means is that 60% do not want her under even the most favorable polling. Once the field is narrowed down to 2 or 3 candidates she will not look like such a front runner. Also, primary voters have a habit of making fools of the polls. The polls do not contact the independents like me, only the registered party voter. I can participate in both primaries in my state and nobody will ask me what I think beforehand. Independents determine elections, not the die-in-the-wool party animals.

    The main reason we do not want a Hillary Clinton for a president leading a strong majority democrat congess is because she is ingrained with the system and will only modify what exists even if she has good intentions. She would “expand” health care coverage and use something like a tax on cigarattes to finance it. That is not what is needed. We need a president and legislature that would “create a new” health care system to include all. Most of the other candidates are of that mind. We need change, not improvements. Hillary would not seek to abolish the Patriot Act either and that MUST be done. The damn thing is unconstitutional. She would not move to end the Iraqi war like the others. The list goes on. She is the last person we need for a president in 2008.

  8. lindaj

    When I wrote yesterday I thought no one would agree with me, thank you all. I am still hoping for a chance to ENTHUSIASTICALLY support a candidate for president this time, and to be INFORMED about positions to be taken without vague reassurances.