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NEA's Obama Endorsement: Will They, or Won't They?

So will the National Education Association's delegates vote at this year's Representative Assembly to endorse Barack Obama for United States president—or won't they?

A few days ago, I wrote that an endorsement was all but a done deal. Now I'm wondering if I'll have to eat my words.

Why? Well, take a look at a New Business Item that is coming up for debate this afternoon.. Its sponsors want to postpone the endorsement and vote in January 2012 instead through an electronic or mail ballot. The NBI rationale says that it would "provide a common ground between those who want to endorse the president at this RA and those who do not."

Or read Stephanie Banchero's story in The Wall Street Journal, which points to a California advisory group that is advocating against an endorsement.

Or take NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's keynote, in which he pushed hard for an endorsement: "NEA must take a stand at this RA and support the re-election of President Barack Obama," he said. "We know President Obama's opponents are going to try to demonize him for the next 18 months."

He ticked off a list of Obama's accomplishments, including the health-care law, the economic-stimulus package, and the "edujobs" bill, that have helped many members.

In his speech, Van Roekel also acknowledged many members' concerns with his policies, but sought to underscore areas of agreement, rather than disagreement with the president. "He has never wavered from talking about the importance of education, from pre-K to college, fighting for Pell grants, fighting for the DREAM Act, fighting for struggling students.," he said. "That doesn't mean we agree with all his education ideas, and I know we'll fight like hell to fix the things that are wrong."

But would this have been an area of focus if an endorsement was all wrapped up? I'm inclined to think not.

When I had a few moments to interview Van Roekel yesterday, I pressed him to explain more about the endorsement. Why do it at this year's RA, as opposed to next year's? After all, the election's a good long way away.

Van Roekel made the point that the move toward earlier primaries and longer campaign seasons means that the union's choices are to endorse four months before an election, or 16 months before. Given the toxic political situation, its directors thought an earlier time frame made more sense. More time and cash behind the candidate that way.

He acknowledged, though, that were there any viable challengers to Obama, the union "wouldn't [endorse] this early."

He added that he doesn't mind differing with the Obama administration on some policies because they share much of their vision for America. "I don't mind fighting with the administration on how to get there; out of that will come good ideas," he said. "I don't want to go back to a time where the fight is the destination," as would be the case with a Republican president.

Bottom line: Odds are NEA will endorse Obama at some point. But it may happen NEXT year, rather than this July.

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