Washington, Oct 31: Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton won the endorsement today of the politically active public employees union AFSCME, which pledged a strong grass-roots campaign on her behalf.
The backing of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was one of the most sought after labor endorsements in the 2008 Democratic race, and the union promised an ''unprecedented'' voter turnout operation for Clinton in the early voting state of Iowa.
''I guess you got the word that you're all going to Iowa,'' union President Gerald McEntee joked with about 100 union activists gathered for the announcement.
The endorsement comes as the New York senator has taken a firm grip on the Democratic lead in national opinion polls two months ahead of the Iowa contest, and the day after she was hammered by her rivals in a debate in Philadelphia.
Clinton donned boxing gloves at the AFSCME event and promised to fight for American working-class families during the November 2008 election.
''Some of you may have seen last night's debate. Six guys against Hillary -- I'd call that a fair fight,'' McEntee said.
''This is one strong woman.'' McEntee said earlier this year he was uncertain if the union would be able to make an endorsement because members were split between Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
But he said union leaders contacted about 45,000 members during the endorsement process and Clinton was ''overwhelmingly'' the choice. The move was backed by 72 per cent of the union's executive board on Wednesday, he said.
McEntee has been one of labor's most politically influential leaders and is credited with delivering Bill Clinton his first big union endorsement during his 1992 campaign for the White House.
David Bonior, campaign manager for Edwards, said the endorsement came as no surprise given the high concentration of AFSCME members in New York ''and the long history that President Clinton has with President McEntee.'' McEntee, who heads the AFL-CIO's political action committee, has said he was determined to avoid a repeat of 2004, when AFSME was one of the first unions to back the surging Howard Dean -- and eventually had to rescind its endorsement as Dean's candidacy flamed out.
''We took 10 months, we looked closely at the candidates, and we drilled down deep into the union to see who was inspiring our members,'' he said. ''No matter how you look at it, Hillary Clinton stands out.'' The union says it will spend about 60 million dollars on the 2008 campaign and will mobilize up to 40,000 members on Clinton's behalf around the country.