From NBC's Andrew Merten and Jenny Anzelmo
Five of the Democratic presidential candidates just finished addressing AFSCME here in Washington, focusing on union-centric topics such as collective bargaining, health care, and trade. Moderator Chris Matthews also solicited responses on subjects from national security and immigration reform to Scooter Libby.
Although each candidate spoke about their pro-labor views and received enthusiastic responses from the nearly 2,000 person crowd, there were some differences in their messages for the union members. Richardson touted the creation of a federal 401(k) plan to ensure that workers aren't left without pension, while Kucinich said that he would forbid company mergers if protection of pension plans could not be guaranteed. While Kucinich went on to say he would cancel NAFTA, calling it a "race to the bottom for wages," Clinton took a more moderate approach -- acknowledging the flaws of the agreement but attributing the problem of outsourcing to other issues.
Obama echoed Clinton's views on trade, saying, "We should want to make the lives of other people in other countries better because it's good for our security." But he decried the outsourcing of jobs to cheap labor markets like China's.
While all the candidates were warmly received by the crowd, the award of strongest applause was certainly a toss-up between Clinton and Obama -- although Edwards certainly made attempts to connect with the audience by stressing his ties to the labor movement. Clinton also met with a very interactive audience, especially during a moment when she was asked by Matthews about whether Libby should be pardoned. As Clinton danced around the topic, people in the first few rows of the audience intervened, pressing Matthews to ask a "real question" about issues that actually affect them. She then went on to field questions about labor organization freedom.