The 73,000-member NCAE is the first major group to offer its endorsement in the 2002 Senate campaign.
Blue was chosen by the NCAE political committee from among the eight candidates vying to fill the seat that will be left open after Sen. Jesse Helm, R-N.C., retires this year.
The committee's recommendation still has to be approved by the general body membership of the NCAE.
"(The committee) endorsed Blue because of his continued support of education in the last 21 years," said Carolyn McKinney, NCAE president.
McKinney cited Blue's establishment of funds for low-wealth schools, support of experience-based salary scales and creation of the "Rainy Day Fund" as reasons for NCAE's endorsement.
"Education has always been on the front burner for Dan Blue," she said.
Blue campaign spokesman Daniel Drum said the endorsement would give the Blue campaign a boost.
"It can be a tremendous springboard for the campaign across the state," Drum said. "It gives us a tremendous volunteer base. We can use every school across the state."
Drum said the endorsement reflects Blue's commitment to education in the N.C. General Assembly. But Drum said Blue had no specific federal education proposals at the present time.
Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC's program on "Southern Politics, Media and Public Life," said the endorsement was very important for the Blue campaign.
He said the endorsement will be most important in mobilizing the Democratic Party base in the primaries.
"The NCAE is an important piece of the fabric of the Democratic Party," Guillory said.
But Guillory said group endorsements are not as influential as they used to be. He referred to the race between Gov. Mike Easley and former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker for governor in 2000 as evidence that group endorsements might not have as much voter clout as they once did.
In the 2000 gubernatorial race most traditional Democratic organizations endorsed Wicker, but Easley still won the Democratic nomination.
"These endorsing groups may not be quite as strong as they used to be in the context of democratic mobilization," Guillory said. "Voters get messages from television and the Internet and are less dependent on these endorsing groups."
All of the senatorial candidates except Elizabeth Dole, who had a scheduling conflict, were interviewed by the NCAE as part of the selection process.
Drum said the endorsement was no surprise, but McKinney said the decision to endorse Blue was difficult because other candidates were well qualified.
McKinney said she thinks N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and former White House press secretary Erskine Bowles have strong commitments to education as well, but that Blue has the best record.
She said, "Blue opened his door to education in 1981 when he was elected and has kept his door open to it ever since."
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