The AFL-CIO Support Card

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CHICAGO -- Tomorrow, the AFL-CIO executive council is expected to free its members unions to endorse whichever presidential candidate they want. For the second cycle in a row, there will be no unified labor endorsement.

Here's who's looking at whom: (UPDATE: It seems like Jonathan Tasini had the same idea. Compare his guesses to mine; some are the same, some are different.)

Expect Sen. John Edwards to receive several early endorsements. He has the inside track to get the nod of the politically-active United Steelworkers, according to labor observers, and is a lock for the Carpenters. Edwards's rivals expect him to be endorsed by several other industrial unions as well, including the United Auto Workers, which is otherwise occupied with contract negotiations this month. A UAW sanction would help Edwards in Michigan, which might hold a presidential nominating caucus in January of 2008.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has a shot at two union nods: it's likely that she'll eventually get the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- AFSCME -- whose president, Gerald McEntee, is very close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. (McEntee endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992, breaking with other unions.) Clinton is also in the running for the American Federation of Teachers endorsement, but it's unclear whether they will endorse. NAFTA has forever closed doors to the entire Clinton family.

Three candidates are credibly vying for the the International Association of Fire Fighters endorsement: Clinton, Sen. Chris Dodd, and Gov. Bill Richardson.

Union insiders believe that the coveted SEIU endorsement -- and remember here that the SEIU isn't part of the AFL-CIO -- will go to John Edwards, Barack Obama or no one. Hillary Clinton is liked by some members of the SEIU board but a major SEIU player -- local 1199 chief Dennis Rivera -- has never really been a fan. Another Change to Win union -- UniteHere -- is partial to Edwards.

When the AFL-CIO admits its ability to reach a consensus, will John Edwards be blamed? He threw himself into the labor community after 2004, joining picket lines, stumping on minimum wage votes and raising money for labor-endorsed candidates. He has proposed the most labor-friendly policies so far, culminating this week with his "smart and safe" trade initiative. That the AFL-CIO did not coalesce around him may say something about his electability or it may mean nothing at all.

Two other reasons why the AFL-CIO could not reach a consensus: Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. It's easy for John Edwards to talk about labor friendly policies; Biden and Dodd can cite a long record of actually working in labor's interests. They are too politically savvy (and realistic) to expect endorsements, but they do expect unions to not endorse anyone else.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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