CARBONDALE, Pa. - Al Gore won, at long last, endorsement by the 1.4 million Teamsters union Thursday after nearly a year of courtship and delay.
The union has been especially impressed by Gore's ''populist message'' since the Democratic convention, spokesman Bret Caldwell said. The Republicans said the endorsement was no surprise and its impact was diminished by the lateness.
Gore also got a Pennsylvania present from Scranton's Republican mayor, Jim Connors, who met the vice president outside a restaurant and announced he was joining the Democratic Party and endorsing Gore. The mayor also gave Gore a key to the city.
The Democratic vice president heard the news on the Teamsters just as he wrapped up a campaign stop promoting his goal of creating 10 million high-tech jobs through business tax incentives. That was at the Scranton-area Gentex, manufacturer of protective suits for firefighting and chemical warfare.
The Teamsters' 24-member executive board voted unanimously by phone to give Gore the endorsement and the millions of dollars in voter mobilization that come with it.
Gore, who knew the news was coming, said, ''I'm very excited about these reports. ... I have heard from lots and lots of rank-and-file members that they want the agenda I've been talking about.''
The board's vote came after an internal poll of Teamsters leadership nationwide found 90 percent support for Gore, a union official said. The remaining 10 percent split among Republican George W. Bush, Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and the Green Party's Ralph Nader.
The endorsement is to be formally announced next week, with Gore expected to schedule a campaign stop specially to thank the union.
On Thursday, Gore, in blue jeans, told Genex workers that his was a fight for the middle class. He drilled into Bush's agenda, reinforcing the full-page ad that his campaign placed in Thursday's New York Times to ask ''Does it matter if the numbers all add up?''
Gore argued that tax cuts pushed by Bush would eat up the entire budget surplus and force the Republican to pay for other campaign promises through deficit spending. Moreover, Gore said, Bush's proposal to privatize a portion of Social Security, a plan he has yet to detail, would leave a ''trillion-dollar hole'' in the retirement program's trust fund.
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett, at the Texas governor's Austin campaign headquarters, faulted the detailed budget that Gore released on Wednesday for not putting price tags on some 50 of his own campaign promises.
''If we can't trust Al Gore to give all the details of his own budget, how can we expect him to tell the truth about Governor Bush's budget,'' Bartlett said.
Listening at Gore's loading-dock rally, worker Barry Craven said the dickering over numbers ''went in one ear and out the other.''
From Pennsylvania, Gore continued on to New Orleans for an evening rally in the French Quarter with his wife, Tipper.
It has been 11 months since the Teamsters, angry over Gore's free-trade views and joined by the United Auto Workers, broke ranks with the AFL-CIO and refused Gore an early endorsement. Union leaders were further peeved when Gore, in mid-June, installed as campaign chairman former Commerce Secretary William Daley, the administration's point man in the trade fight against labor.
Teamsters president James Hoffa had long threatened the possibility of endorsing Bush or just sitting out the election.
However, Bartlett, the Bush spokesman, dismissed the endorsement as a fait accompli and said its importance was diminished by the long delay.
''This will not deter us one bit in pushing our case to rank-and-file working families,'' said Bartlett.
The autoworkers formally backed Gore last month.
The endorsement decided, the Teamsters now add their efforts to the more than $40 million that the AFL-CIO and individual unions are pouring into voter education and get-out-the-vote activities designed to aid Gore. In all, the Teamsters political action teams are to spend $9 million on Gore's and other races.
As part of the union drive, Bartlett said the Bush camp expected labor leaders to act as ''attack surrogates for the Al Gore campaign to distort Governor Bush's record.''
''We will vigorously set the record straight,'' Bartlett said.