By TOM FAHEY -State House Bureau Chief
Concord – The State Employees Association executive board plans to meet with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee Friday, with an eye toward endorsing him in the GOP primary.
SEA, Local 1984 of the Service Employees International Union, endorsed Democrat John Edwards last week. The process the SEA used to get to that endorsement came in for stiff criticism from some members, who accused the board of backroom intrigue. They said the board actually voted for Sen. Barack Obama and then reversed itself after the vote was finalized.
SEA political director Jay Ward said yesterday the process of endorsing a Democratic candidate was completely above board, even if it was misunderstood by some members.
He said the union wants to give its Republican membership guidance on voting in the primary this year.
Huckabee, 52, a former governor of Arkansas, is a pro-life conservative who favors constitutional amendments barring gay marriage and abortion. He shares his hometown of Hope, Ark. with former President Bill Clinton.
Huckabee has been striving to move up in the GOP pack that Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain long dominated. While some candidates count contributions to their campaigns in the millions of dollars, Huckabee sent an email to supporters yesterday saying he was close to raising $200,000 in the first six days of November, double his pace in October.
One national tracking poll has him in a statistical tie for third place with Romney and McCain, behind Giuliani and Fred Thompson. Ward said that in polls among SEA membership, Huckabee has drawn more support than the other Republican candidates combined.
“Corrections workers, retirees, workers at Health and Human Services, all find a reason to back him,” he said. The SEA political education committee and executive board also give Huckabee favorable reviews, Ward said.
Corrections workers were impressed that Huckabee recently toured the State Prison for Women in Goffstown and the Youth Development Center in Manchester.
HHS workers liked the idea that Huckabee used his state’s tobacco lawsuit settlement money on children’s health care, Ward said.
SEA represents 9,000 active and retired state workers.
Huckabee has been courting members for about a year. On a visit to the state this spring, he met with the SEA board for about an hour at its Concord headquarters. He’s followed that up with two meetings since.
State Sen. Bob Clegg, a Huckabee volunteer leader, said an SEA endorsement would not surprise him. He said he could see corrections workers were impressed when Huckabee talked with them.
“He gets a unique perspective … about what’s happening to the union guy,” he said.
New Hampshire campaign manager Debra Vanderbeek said Huckabee is excited about meeting with the SEA again.
“He identifies with people who are struggling, and that’s something they can understand too. His message resonates with a lot of their folks,” she said.