Bye, Bye Idaho - Hello, D.C.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., carries his skis to the slopes at Sun Valley in Ketchum, Idaho Saturday, March 20, 2004.
It's back to business for John Kerry – the business of campaigning for president. The presumptive Democratic nominee wrapped up his nearly weeklong vacation in Sun Valley on Wednesday and has a full schedule in Washington, D.C., Thursday - accepting a key union endorsement and support from former rival Howard Dean and other party leaders.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will endorse Kerry on Thursday in a meeting of the union's executive council, Democratic officials said. AFSCME, with 1.3 million members, is the second-largest union in the AFL-CIO.

Kerry is meeting privately Thursday with members of the Democratic National Committee, and then speaking to the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He has a private meeting with Dean's congressional supporters and donors, and plans to accept formally Dean's endorsement during a rally at George Washington University, followed by the AFSCME endorsement.

On Thursday night, the titans of the Democratic Party come together to recognize Kerry as their new leader and raise more than $10 million for the DNC's effort to defeat President Bush. Among those joining Kerry will be former Presidents Carter and Clinton, 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and all his primary rivals except Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley Braun.

Dean met with Kerry in Washington on March 10th and pledged at that time to work closely with the Massachusetts senator "to make sure we beat George Bush and turn this country around." "The primary goal throughout my campaign was to send George Bush back to Texas," Dean wrote on the Web site for his new organization, Democracy For America. "John Kerry shares this goal and is the only person with a chance of doing just that."

Dean also tries to convince his backers not to support a third-party candidate who might take votes away from Kerry. "The future of our country depends on defeating this president, so this election is much too important to support any effort by any third candidate," said Dean.

AFSCME had endorsed Dean last fall and helped propel his candidacy to front-runner status for a while. AFSCME President Gerald McEntee yanked the endorsement last month after Dean had failed to win any of the first 11 Democatic primaries yet insisted he would stay in the race.

AFSCME, which spends more on politics than any other union, wanted to immediately stem the bleeding of manpower and campaign coffers to a losing campaign. Its political action committee spent $847,120, including $583,366 in independent expenditures in support of Dean in February, according to a Federal Election Commission report.

McEntee is a major player in Democratic Party politics, and his early endorsement of Bill Clinton helped propel the former Arkansas governor to the presidency. He had flirted with backing Kerry and Wesley Clark before jumping on Dean's bandwagon when the former Vermont governor was leading in polls and fund raising.

Kerry spent the past six days in Idaho skiing, snowboarding, reading and resting up with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, after months of grueling campaigning.

He's had little to say publicly even as the Bush campaign stepped up its criticism of Kerry on the stump and in new attack ads.

On Tuesday, Kerry declined to wade into a dispute over former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke's allegations that the Bush administration failed to respond to warnings of potential terrorist attacks and manipulated the nation into a war with Iraq.

"I don't know anything about it," said Kerry, questioned by reporters as he arrived at the ski slopes. "It's my last hours, my last hours."