Sen. Barack Obama won an endorsement from the powerful Teamsters union, critical labor support for the Democratic front-runner with upcoming contests in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.
"There was very, very strong support for him" among the union's members, said James P. Hoffa, president of the 1.4-million member union, in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hoffa planned to meet with Obama on Wednesday in Texas, the site of the next Democratic primary against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Teamsters endorsement is expected to help Obama there and in Ohio on March 4, as well as in Pennsylvania on April 22.
The Teamsters have 80,000 members in Pennsylvania, 60,000 in Ohio and 17,000 in Texas, Hoffa said. In addition to those members on the ground, the Teamsters plan to have their members and their families from around the country work for Obama, Hoffa said.
"We're going to say, 'Yes, yes, we can elect Barack Obama,'" Hoffa said. " ... He's got the best chance to win in the November elections."
The Democratic presidential contenders have lobbied hard for the Teamster endorsement because of the power the union wields through its fundraising for Democratic candidates and get-out-the-vote programs. The Teamsters gave more than $2.2 million to Democrats in federal races in 2004. They have given more than $24 million to Democratic election causes since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Ohio and Pennsylvania have some of the nation's largest number of union workers, with more than 15 percent of the work force unionized in Pennsylvania and just over 14 percent in Ohio.
The endorsement from the Teamsters is Obama's fourth from organized labor in a week. The 65,000-member International Brotherhood of Boilermakers endorsed Obama on Wednesday, the 1.9-million member Service Employees International Union backed the Illinois senator last Friday, and the smaller United Food and Commercial Workers endorsed him last Thursday.
Clinton by far has a larger number of unions in her corner with 12 endorsements from unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO -- the nation's largest labor federation -- and the United Farm Workers from the rival Change To Win labor federation.
But Obama also has two AFL-CIO unions in his corner -- the Transport Workers Union. He also has the backing of the independent National Weather Service Employees Organization. And with a Teamsters endorsement, he will have four Change To Win unions in his corner: the Teamsters, SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, who gave Obama his first major endorsement from a union.