SEIU: No News is Bad News for Edwards

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John Edwards has been ardently courting the health care workers union, whose endorsement is one of the biggest prizes in Democratic politics. And he got big points with SEIU leaders for being the first major candidate in the Democratic field to come up with a comprehensive health care reform plan that would reach universal coverage. Its decision not to endorse, at least for now, is a blow, as Lynn Sweet explains:

This is a big setback for White House hopeful former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who has been working the SEIU leaders (first, second and third tier) for years. This is very good news for rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who now has bought time to persuade SEIU leaders that he is the most politically viable contender.

I’m told the leaders of the SEIU — one of the most politically active unions in the nation — want to make an endorsement. And there are elements within the leadership who want to stop Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is the frontrunner in most polls — national and in the four early primary states.

I’m told the executive board never even took a vote. That’s all bad news for the Edwards forces, who hoped to lock in the SEIU endorsement last week, after the top Dem contenders addressed their political conference in Washington. But SEIU chief Andy Stern and SEIU chief politico Anna Burger said the executive board needed to hear more from the top strategists for the campaigns. Team Obama sent strategist David Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe.

Then again, as Howard Dean could tell you, SEIU’s endorsement can only take you so far.

UPDATE: Commenter Space says:

It seems odd for Karen to take Sweet’s perspective at face value. As others have noted, SEIU isn’t in the habit of making September endorsements. I need a little more to conclude that Edwards got hosed here.

Fair enough (though I disagree with Space’s assumption about the indefatigable Lynn Sweet, who has done terrific, hard-nosed reporting on Obama). The fact is, the Edwards campaign had been pushing hard for an early endorsement, and would especially have liked to see it before the third-quarter campaign spending report deadline. And the NYT’s veteran labor reporter Steve Greenhouse has pretty much the same take with this additional observation:

It often appears that the thing that will most help Mr. Edwards secure more union endorsements is not for him to march on a union picket line for the umpteenth time, but for him to get a 5 or 10 percentage point bump in nationwide polls. Many union leaders are wary of endorsing candidate who will flame out the way Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt did in the 2004 primaries, notwithstanding the union endorsements they had.

Speaking of which, the Edwards campaign just announced:

Buffalo, New York – Tomorrow, Senator John Edwards will join striking auto workers from U.A.W. Local 774 on a picket line outside of the General Motors Powertrain Plant in Buffalo, New York. On Monday, 73,000 U.A.W. members walked off the job after contract negotiations with General Motors reached a stalemate.