NEW YORK – The International Association of Fire Fighters is set to endorse Democrat Chris Dodd for president, turning down better-known contenders in favor of a long-standing Senate ally whose campaign has struggled to gain traction.
Union president Harold Schaitberger was expected to announce the endorsement at a news conference in Washington Wednesday morning. Dodd and Schaitberger were then scheduled to travel together to Iowa for a full day of appearances Thursday, followed by joint campaign events in New Hampshire on Friday and Nevada on Saturday.
In an interview, Schaitberger said the Connecticut senator had earned the 280,000-member union's backing because of his experience and longtime support of firefighters in Congress.
"He's done more than vote right and be supportive -- he's really carried our water and been proactive on our behalf," Schaitberger said. "And the other reason is that I really think he has the experience. Our board gave a lot of thought to this. He has the experience and the strength to lead this country in what we know is going to be tough times."
The endorsement was a significant boost for Dodd, a 25-year Senate veteran whose presidential bid has been almost completely eclipsed by the star power of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.
Dodd has remained in single digits in most national and state polls.
IAFF is the nation's largest and most influential firefighters union, with a history of supporting both Republican and Democratic candidates. Presidential contenders of both parties actively sought IAFF's backing this year, thanks to the union's organizing ability and firefighters' enhanced status in the public eye since their heroics after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The union's endorsement was credited with reviving Democrat John Kerry's moribund campaign in late 2003, when he was stuck in single digits in most polls. Firefighters turned out in force to campaign for Kerry in early voting states such as New Hampshire, providing a burst of momentum that helped him win the party's nomination in 2004.
In an interview, Dodd said he was "deeply grateful" for the endorsement and pointed to Kerry's experience as key.
"They know how to win elections, and they'll put lots of boots on the ground. This is an important election, and they know it," Dodd said. "They've made it clear it would be about the future -- who could win the election, fight for middle class, and bring people together to get the job done."
Earlier in the day, Clinton picked up the endorsement of the 125,000-member United Transportation Union.