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Campaign Notebook

N.H. service workers union backs Edwards over Obama

CONCORD, N.H. - The New Hampshire chapter of the Service Employees International Union endorsed John Edwards yesterday, but the decision was far from unanimous and far from uncomplicated.

It reversed a decision of the chapter's executive board last week to endorse Barack Obama instead. Two people who voted, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private, said the final count was 7 to 5 in favor of endorsing Obama.

The Obama campaign says that after that vote, New Hampshire SEIU president Gary Smith called Obama as the Illinois senator walked off a stage on the Boston Common where he just received the endorsement of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Obama believed he had the endorsement, his campaign said.

Yesterday, Smith confirmed that he talked to Obama, but declined to answer questions about whether he told Obama he had the endorsement.

Smith said the 7-to-5 vote was not final. The executive board met again twice last week and decided to allow the rank-and-file members to have a straw poll during their previously scheduled convention in Nashua on Saturday. Edwards won that straw poll, and when the executive board voted again Tuesday night, Edwards won 9 to 8, Smith said.

The endorsement could provide a huge boost for Edwards in New Hampshire, where he is running third in the polls. It means that 1.3 million members of SEIU chapters in 11 other states that have already endorsed Edwards, including Massachusetts and Maine, can come into the Granite State and campaign for him.

Showing up to receive the endorsement, Edwards said he was both "thrilled" and "proud."

JAMES W. PINDELL

A war of words

The most applauded one-liner from Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate has sparked a war of words between Joe Biden and Republican Rudy Giuliani.

Biden, a senator from Delaware, said that the former New York mayor was "probably the most unqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency," then punctuated his assertion: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence - a noun, and a verb, and 9/11. I mean there's nothing else."

That prompted Katie Levinson, Giuliani's communications director, to dredge up accusations that Biden plagiarized speeches, which helped sink his 1988 presidential bid.

In her statement, she followed that up with this zinger: "Senator Biden certainly falls into the bucket of those on the stage tonight who have never had executive experience and have never run anything. Wait, I take that back. Senator Biden has never run anything but his mouth. Such a desperate attack from Senator Biden is to be expected considering I - Katie Levinson - have a better chance of becoming president than he does."

Biden communications director Larry Rasky responded by repeating complaints from New York police officers and firefighters that Giuliani didn't adequately support them.

"We are well aware," Rasky added in a statement, "that former Mayor Giuliani will attempt to drag this race into the mud where the Republicans like to wage their campaigns."

FOON RHEE

Key union backs Clinton

WASHINGTON - Hillary Clinton won the presidential endorsement yesterday of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, an important boost for the Democrat leading in the national polls.

The union is one of the largest in the nation and the biggest for workers in the public-service sector with 1.4 million members nationwide. AFSCME represents government and private workers including nurses, bus drivers, child-care providers, custodians, and librarians.

Gerald McEntee, president of the union, said Clinton "will help rebuild America's middle class and make sure everyone shares in our country's prosperity."

AFSCME is expected to provide help in early-voting states, such as Iowa, where it has about 30,000 members, and New Hampshire, where it has about 3,000. AFSCME budgeted about $48 million for get-out-the-vote efforts in the 2004 election.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Evangelicals' discontent

WASHINGTON - More than half of white evangelical Republicans would consider voting for a conservative third-party candidate should the 2008 presidential race pit Hillary Clinton against Rudy Giuliani, a poll showed yesterday.

The finding, in a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, was the latest reading of discontent among one of the GOP's cornerstone voting blocs. Giuliani, the leading Republican contender in most national polls, is a former New York mayor whose views on abortion, gays, and guns are considered too moderate by many conservatives.

According to the poll, 55 percent of white evangelical Republicans said they would consider a conservative who ran as a third-party candidate. Forty-two percent said they would not.

Evangelicals comprise 34 percent of GOP and Republican-leaning voters, according to Pew. They are divided about evenly among Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Senator John McCain of Arizona.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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