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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton picked up the first national labor endorsement of the 2008 White House race on Tuesday, winning the support of the 125,000-member United Transportation Union.
The union, which represents active and retired members of the railroad, bus and public transit industries, said it would devote "considerable resources" to backing the New York senator in the 2008 race.
"The UTU has a long history of picking winners early. Hillary will be a president that America's working families can count on," said union president Paul Thompson.
The UTU is the first of many labor unions expected to throw their grass roots and financial muscle behind a candidate over the next few months.
The AFL-CIO, an umbrella group representing 55 labor unions, freed its members to back a contender earlier this month when its executive council could not reach the two-thirds consensus needed for an endorsement by the full federation.
Democratic candidate Chris Dodd, a Connecticut senator who has lagged his top rivals in opinion polls, is expected to win the endorsement of the firefighters union on Wednesday. The union was an early and influential backer of Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 race.
Dodd and Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, will conduct a three-day tour of early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada this week, Dodd's campaign office said.
Clinton holds a big lead over her 2008 Democratic rivals in national polls five months before the first nominating contests are scheduled and more than 14 months ahead of the November 2008 presidential election.
But top rivals Barack Obama, an Illinois senator, and John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, also have made strong pushes for labor support.
Union officials said Clinton's support for labor issues and union members, and her performance at an AFL-CIO-sponsored debate earlier this month, clinched the transportation union endorsement.
The union's support for Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, dated to Bill Clinton's 1978 campaign for governor of Arkansas, a union official said.
Hillary Clinton said she was honored to pick up the UTU's support.
"America's workers have been invisible to this administration, and it's time they had an advocate in the White House," she said in a statement.