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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan February 8, 2008

Unions gave Huck their GOP nod

It's not often that we hear a Republican presidential candidate crowing about support from unions.

"I'm the only Republican who has gotten endorsements in this presidential race from major labor unions, the international painters union as well as the machinists and aerospace workers — first time in over 100 years from either union," Huckabee said in a TV interview the day after Super Tuesday.

Huckabee is correct on a few points here.

Unions don't usually endorse Republican candidates, and they support Democratic candidates with contributions by margins of roughly 9 to 1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But this year, two unions decided to endorse candidates in the primaries for both parties: The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades with 160,000 members, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers with 720,000 members.

In the Democratic race, both unions endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, and in the Republican race, both endorsed Mike Huckabee.

We called both unions and they confirmed the "100 years" statement because it's the first time they've endorsed Republican candidates since they formed more than 100 years ago.

James Williams, head of the International Painters, said the union decided to endorse Republicans this year as a way of reflecting the sentiments of their Republican members, who make up about 30 percent of the union. The painters mailed out a ballot to more than 160,000 members and asked them to vote in each race and Huckabee was the GOP choice.

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Add to that the fact that some members live in heavily Republican areas and are represented by Republican elected officials, he said. The endorsement is a way of reaching out beyond the unions' usual Democratic allies.

"The reality is that we have to work across the aisle with both Democrats and Republicans," Williams said. "It hasn't been done in the last seven years. But hopefully whoever is elected next will realize we can't have this polarization."

Huckabee may have won the endorsements because he actively campaigned for them. He was the only Republican to attend the national convention of the machinists' union in August 2007.

He also speaks regularly on the need for fair trade agreements and the problems of working men and women. Critics and supporters alike have described him as an "economic populist."

Not that Huckabee's union record is flawless: Unions have criticized him for crossing picket lines of the Writers Guild of America to appear on late-night television shows, among other things.

We searched for major union endorsements of any other Republican candidates and were unable to find one. A spokesperson with the AFL-CIO said the Huckabee endorsements were the only ones they knew of.

There are a lot of unusual things about Huckabee, a bass guitar-playing, Chuck Norris-approved preacher. Add Republican and union-endorsed to that list. We find his statement True.

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