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CANDIDATES SEEK LABOR UNIONS' SUPPORT

Presidential candidates went fishing for labor support in the crucial Midwest, but the unions weren't biting.

Illinois and Michigan hold the nation's next primaries on Tuesday, and labor unions play a big role in both states. The three Democrats - Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts and former California Gov. Jerry Brown - were trying Thursday to win over that strong traditionally Democratic constituency. They weren't doing well with the union leaders.Twelve unions who had endorsed or supported Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, before he dropped out of the race met in Washington to decide what to do next. The group, including the key United Auto Workers, decided not to endorse anyone at this time.

Clinton wanted big victories next week to show that he has appeal outside the South and make it appear that his nomination is inevitable. Tsongas needed a victory to stop Clinton's momentum. Brown could play a big role because his liberal message holds some appeal to union members.

President Bush was expected to continue his march to renomination although conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan was campaigning hard in Michigan. Buchanan turned down suggestions by former Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to drop out of the race.

After the Washington labor meeting, William Bywater, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers, said the unions hoped to meet with the candidates to get a better idea of where they stand on labor issues.

He said the labor leaders were "not satisfied with either of the two leading candidates on trade" and were afraid the candidates' support of "fast-track" trade agreements would send jobs to other countries with lower wages.

Labor unions also have problems with Tsongas, who has said he opposes giving guarantees to rehire striking workers, and with Clinton, who serves as chief of a right-to-work state.

The union could endorse later after next week's primaries, and Bywater said there was nothing to keep locals from supporting individual candidates. One UAW local already has endorsed Brown.

The leaders would not formally endorse Brown, but Bywater said, "It is in our best interest that he remains in the race. Brown brings the debate back to the center of the Democratic Party."

Brown said he was getting "powerful response" from labor. "Quite frankly a lot of it is coming because of a fear of Mr. Clinton and his record. He has a horrible labor record."

Clinton blasted Tsongas for a new advertisement that raises questions of the governor's integrity, calling it "an attack on me personally. I think that does not reflect well on him. Nor do I think it will do him any good."

But later in Illinois, Clinton said he would consider Tsongas as vice president.

"If I were making a list he would be on the list," Clinton said. "I am not the nominee yet so the question of a running mate is a little premature."