Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean has received a major boost as two influential labor unions say they are endorsing his campaign for the White House.
The labor endorsements are a major victory for the Dean campaign and a setback for the candidacies of Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.
The two unions throwing their support behind the former Vermont governor are the Services Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, also known as AFSCME. Together, the two unions represent about three-million government employees and service workers around the country.
AFSCME President Gerald Mcentee announced the endorsements at a news conference in Washington.
"Together, we can defeat this anti-worker, anti-family, anti-democracy president and his fat-cat [rich] friends," he said.
The union endorsements could pay important dividends for the Dean campaign in the early presidential contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where union activists will campaign on his behalf.
The former Vermont governor received an enthusiastic welcome when he appeared before the union activists in Washington.
"But the bottom line is that I think George Bush's motto in life is if you are rich you deserve it and if you are poor you deserve it," Mr. Dean said. "And I do not think that is the kind of country that I was taught to be proud of and it is not the kind of country we were taught to be proud of and it is not the country we are going to have after January 20th of 2005 [inauguration day]."
The Dean endorsements are a disappointment for Congressman Richard Gephardt. He is a long-time ally of organized labor who already has 20 union endorsements of his own. He and Mr. Dean are close in public opinion polls in Iowa, which hosts the first presidential preference caucuses in mid-January.
The union boost for Mr. Dean is also a setback for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry who had earlier hoped for the endorsement of the government employees' union. Senator Kerry is trailing Howard Dean in New Hampshire where a crucial primary will be held just one week after the Iowa contest.
Senator Kerry's campaign also appears to be in some disarray after he fired his campaign manager this week and then two other staff members quit in protest.
Howard Dean is one of nine Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination next year for the right to face President Bush in the general election.