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Labor Support Could Impact Early Contests in Race for US Democratic Presidential Nomination - 2003-11-14

Presidential hopeful Howard Dean took what could be a major step toward winning the Democratic Party's presidential nomination this week. But even as Mr. Dean moves ahead, some Democrats are still pushing New York Senator Hillary Clinton to join the Democratic field.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean got a major boost when he won the endorsements of two influential labor unions representing service workers and government employees.

Together, the unions represent three million workers around the country. Their support could have an impact in the early presidential contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Public opinion polls indicate Mr. Dean is currently leading in New Hampshire, and is close to the lead in Iowa.

"And we have the power to take back the White House in 2004, and that is exactly what we are going to do," he said. "Thank you very much."

The labor endorsements for the Dean campaign were a setback for two key rivals - Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Congressman Gephardt is counting on labor support to win the first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential caucuses on January 19. Senator Kerry is also looking for union help to reinvigorate his campaign, which appears to be in disarray. He fired his campaign manager this week, and two high-level aides quit in protest.

A total of nine Democrats are seeking the party nomination to face President Bush next year. But not everyone is happy with the Democratic field.

Senator Clinton has repeatedly insisted she is not a candidate and many Democrats believe she is positioning herself for a run for the White House in 2008.

Bob Kunst, a Democratic activist from Florida who has launched a grassroots campaign to convince New York Senator Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2004, believes she is the only candidate who could save the Democratic Party from a crushing defeat at the hands of President Bush.

"We are not interested in Dean," he said. "He is phony and a hypocrite and if the [political] left feels that secure with this guy, well, you know, we have George McGovern [1972 Democratic nominee trounced by President Nixon] as a good example of a campaign going down in flames again."

With his edge in the polls and in fundraising, Howard Dean appears to be the man to beat in the upcoming Democratic presidential primaries.

But political analysts like Ron Faucheux caution that it is still early and that the nominating process can be unpredictable.

"But it is still a wide-open race. Anything can happen," he said on VOA TV. "And, of course, it is just typical that people will gang up on the candidate who is perceived to be the frontrunner, or becoming the frontrunner."

As for President Bush, a new poll held mixed news for his re-election hopes. A Wall Street Journal, NBC News poll found a growing number of Americans approve of his handling of the domestic economy. But the new survey also found a slight increase in the number of people concerned about the president's handling of the situation in Iraq.