WASHINGTON—Hillary Rodham Clinton was endorsed Saturday by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union, giving her campaign a boost in an increasingly competitive Democratic primary race.
With 3 million members, the NEA’s support will help Clinton in her primary bid against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has galvanized liberal Democrats and announced this week he had raised nearly as much money as Clinton during the past three months.
“We chose Hillary Clinton because she chose kids. She’s had kids in her heart from pre-school to graduate school,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia in a phone interview. She said Clinton addressed the 175-member NEA board on Saturday for more than an hour, answering questions about testing, special education and college affordability.
Many rank-and-file union members have backed Sanders and pressured labor leaders not to endorse Clinton with four months remaining before the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Eskelsen Garcia said 75 percent of the union’s board supported Clinton and the union felt it could have more influence by endorsing during the primaries. The NEA declined to issue an endorsement in the 2008 primaries, waiting until Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination to offer support.
Clinton has outlined plans to bolster early childhood education by creating a universal pre-K system and boosting money for Head Start education programs. Thanking the union, Clinton said in a statement she would “ensure that teachers always have a voice and a seat at the table.”
Sanders did not address the NEA board but, like Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, was interviewed by Eskelsen Garcia, submitted a questionnaire and recorded a video statement that aired during the union’s summer convention.
Sanders said in a statement he was proud to have the support of “many hundreds of thousands” of NEA members and trade unionists across the nation.
The former secretary of state has been endorsed by eight labor unions, accounting for about 7 million members, including both of the nation’s teachers’ unions. The American Federation of Teachers was the first labor union to endorse Clinton, during the summer.