Obama alone in not joining firefighter for a meal

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) again is defying the traditional road to his party’s presidential nomination.

While most of the Democratic presidential contenders have sought out Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), for a one-on-one meal in an effort to remind the union head they want his organization’s endorsement, only Obama has not.

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) is scheduled to have breakfast with Schaitberger this morning, and Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) is having lunch with him this afternoon.

Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) had dinner with the head of the influential union last week, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in the process of scheduling a dinner. Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) keeps in regular contact with Schaitberger.

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose campaign is struggling, dined with Schaitberger about a month ago. At that meeting, Schaitberger was introduced to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is joining Schaitberger this afternoon.

That dinner caps off a busy day of meetings for the IAFF president. After his lunch with Biden, he is scheduled to meet with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to discuss a Senate strategy for passing a bill that gives public safety workers the right to collective bargaining that passed in the House yesterday.

An IAFF official said the meetings are fairly informal, as Schaitberger and the candidates have now met on several occasions.

They meet to discuss the state of their campaigns and what they would do for firefighters if elected and push Schaitberger for the group’s endorsement, the aide said.

Obama did not rate as highly as the other Democrats in a survey of union members conducted at its presidential forum in mid-March.

Obama was thought to be “less on point on our issues,” too somber and “just didn’t fire them up,” according to Schaitberger’s reading of the survey results.

After the print deadline, an Obama spokesman strongly disputed this article, stating that Obama and Schaitberger had breakfast together on March 9.

Clarification: The article should have clarified that Obama has not requested a one-on-one meeting with Schaitberger since the IAFF's presidential forum in mid-March.