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NEA Getting a Head Start on Its 2016 Presidential Endorsement

By Alyson Klein — March 25, 2015 3 min read
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Attention 2016 presidential candidates: Want the endorsement of the National Education Association? It comes with some perks: The nation’s largest union can offer you its three million members as potential campaign volunteers alongside to-be-determined potential sums of campaign cash.

But if you’re interested, candidates, then you need to start thinking about your education platform soon. That’s right, even if you haven’t actually declared yet and all you’ve done to make yourself a 2016 contender was show up to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Or, you know, you’re ... Hillary Clinton.

The NEA is getting started on its 2016 presidential endorsement process extra early this year—while at the same time trying to shine a spotlight on the issue of education in general, the union’s president, Lily Eskelsen García told reporters Wednesday.

In practice, that means the union will be sending out its traditional questionnaires to the 19 candidates that it considers viable very soon, including anyone who spoke at CPAC or has made a lot of visits recently to early primary states.

Plus, the NEA will be setting up field operations in the early states (think Iowa and New Hampshire) and even erecting billboards near major airports in those states, with some to-be-determined ad about the importance of education in the campaign. And they’ll be giving members some media training so that they can help carry the union’s message.

“We know that we have to be involved early,” García said. “Budgets are being cut, class sizes are exploding, technology, even career programs are being cut. ... People are even now forming their opinions [about candidates] who are not professional educators. We want them to know we know the right answers.”

It’s important to note that the last time we had a totally open presidential field—2008—the NEA sat out the endorsement process entirely, while the American Federation of Teachers supported Clinton. Of course, Sen. Barack Obama went onto win the nomination—and the presidency—with the help of donors (like Democrats for Education Reform) who supported policies like charter schools and tying teacher pay to test scores.

Of course, by the time Obama was the nominee, the unions gave him a ton of cash too ... but Democrats in favor of education redesign argued that Obama won the White House without the unions. And, as president, he didn’t always side with them, particularly in the first term (when teacher evaluation based partly on tests became a signature Obama administration K-12 policy).

So, even though they didn’t say this, you could see why the NEA might want to get Clinton ... err, the future Democratic nominee, in their corner early on.

And, even though the NEA nearly always endorses Democratic candidates, in down ballot races as well as the general election for presidential contenders, García made it clear that the union wants to give GOP candidates a serious look.

After all, several of the unions affiliates (including those in early primary states) endorsed former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (a huge fan of arts education) back in 2008, and Huckabee was the lone Republican to speak at the union’s 2007 annual convention.

So who did the union send its questionnaire to? Here’s the full list:

Republicans: Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Carly Fiorina (business executive and former Senate candidate), Sen. Lindsey Graham of North Carolina, Huckabee, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Democrats: Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, and former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia

Plus one independent (who calls himself a socialist): Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

(Sorry, fans of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Progressive Darling. She’s not on the list, probably because she’s made it clear she’s not interested in running for the White House this time around.)

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