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Presidential Candidates Campaign In New Hampshire, Iowa On Labor Day


There is no break this Labor Day for those who want to be the next president of the United States or who are at least thinking about it.


JOE BIDEN: The tax code's not fair. It's simply not fair.


BIDEN: The wealthy aren't paying their fair share. It used to be one America.


HILLARY CLINTON: One of my principal jobs as your president will be to defend the right to organize and bargain collectively on behalf of hard-working Americans.


BERNIE SANDERS: Throughout this country, millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages.

CORNISH: That's Bernie Sanders at an AFL-CIO breakfast this morning in Manchester, N.H. Before that, we heard Hillary Clinton speaking at a labor event in Hampton, Ill., and Joe Biden in a speech to Steelworkers in Pittsburgh. It's a symbolic day for Democrats, but Republicans are out and about too. And NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from the Labor Day picnic - a chicken fry, actually, on the banks of the Mississippi River to talk more about it. And Don, the Mississippi River is long. Where exactly are you?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, I have been in Iowa all weekend, but I drove across the bridge onto the Illinois side. I'm right on the banks of the Mississippi in Illinois with a beautiful view of Iowa. I came here for the Labor Day rally where you - we just heard the clip of tape from Secretary Clinton's speaking.

But I also came earlier in the day because there was one of those big Labor Day parades, a big celebration of organized labor. We had union floats. We had marching bands. We had a group marching on behalf of Bernie Sanders. There was, right behind them, a Hillary Clinton group - a bunch of her supporters with signs and T-shirts.

And this is what Labor Day really is for Democrats and for the labor movement. If it's the end of the summer for everybody else, in an election season, this is when they really start gearing up and putting people on notice that the big push is about to begin.

CORNISH: And people often link the Labor movement with Democrats, but is that beginning to actually sort out? Are you actually seeing unions back specific candidates?

GONYEA: To some, it's just beginning to sort itself out. Again, you know, the occasional Republican gets an endorsement from a labor union and from the AFL-CIO. But this year, there's not a lot of love for the Republicans in the field when you talk to these union members and activists. A couple of the big unions - the American Federation of Teachers and the nurses union - have endorsed. The teachers went with Hillary Clinton. The nurses went with Bernie Sanders.

But most of the 56 unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO are just beginning their process. This weekend in Iowa, AFSCME, the big government employees union, had individual closed town halls with Sanders, with Clinton and with Martin O'Malley. So they're beginning their process, and they're trying to work their leverage on these candidates.

CORNISH: Leverage for what? I mean, what do they want or hope to achieve in this process?

GONYEA: They want the debate to be about their issues. They want these candidates to commit to being in a certain place on these issues - the minimum wage, the right to organize, worker safety, fair trade deals - things like that. And one guy in Newton, Iowa, at one of these events, said to me - he said, there's no hurry for us to endorse. Why give it away too soon? The longer we push them, the better the chances that they'll be talking about our issues. And we also need to impress upon them that it doesn't stop the day they get elected.

CORNISH: And meanwhile for the GOP, what were you hearing?

GONYEA: They're out campaigning today as well. Labor Day's a little different for them. They celebrate American workers, but they don't celebrate labor unions 'cause labor unions are generally on the other side. But candidates have also been out all over the place. It's a great day to find groups of people, to bring people in, maybe hire a country band or something else and have a big festive day rooted around politics and the coming election season.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Hampton, Ill. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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