Obama pitches partisan Labor Day message

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama took his re-election campaign on the road again Monday with a short partisan speech in Detroit aimed at reversing his sagging support among union households, blue collar workers and swing state Midwest voters.

Obama cited Democratic President Harry Truman’s come-from-behind presidential victory in 1948, lambasted GOP leaders for their criticism of unions, and declared that unions are “the cornerstone of the middle class … America cannot have a strong, growing economy without a strong, growing middle class and without a strong labor movement.”

Obama’s speech tried to showcase his financial support for the auto industry and his support from union allies, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“The auto industry is roaring back … [following Obama‘s] bold action to save the auto industry,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said just before Obama was formally introduced by a member of the auto workers’ union. “Thank you President Obama for standing up against the people who wanted to liquidate our companies,” said the autoworker, Ghana Goodwin-Dye, head of the auto-union’s Local 909.

Obama needs the unions’ support because his polls show a sharp drop in his support among blue collar workers, especially among swing voting white blue collar workers in must-win states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. For example, a July poll by Pew showed that 54 percent of middle-class whites, 47 percent of poor whites and 54 percent of wealthier whites supported the GOP.

But union leaders are also threatening to reduce their financial and political support for Obama’s reelection campaign unless he helps them on some issues. (RELATED: Hoffa on tea party, congressional conservatives: ‘Let’s take these sons of bitches out’)

“I think some of the things he’s done have caused a dampening [of] the spirit of the base,” Trumka recently told an interviewer from Bloomberg TV. “American workers, whether they’re union or not union, are looking for leadership. They don’t want talk. They don’t want excuses. They don’t want bipartisan crap. They want somebody that will stand up and say, ‘Here’s the problem. This is what it’ll take to fix it. And I’m going to fight for that,” Trumka said Sept. 2.

In his speech, Obama took time to introduce several top union leaders attending his speech, including Trumka and James Hoffa, head of the Teamsters union. He cited his visits to auto factories owned by General Motors and Chrysler, and his visit to a new battery factory funded as part of his administration’s spending on green technology.

“We stood by the auto industry …. we’re fighting for good job at good wages … [for] healthcare when you get sick … a change to give our kids a better life than we had… [and] the same set of rules for everybody… [so that] everybody has a shot at the American Dream,” he said.

Obama also sought to drum up attention for his pending Thursday speech before a joint session of Congress. ”We’re going to lay out a near way forward on jobs … tune in on Thursday,” he said, as he described proposals for infrastructure spending and an extension of the temporary cut in Social Security payroll taxes. “We want to see if congressional Republicans put country before party… [or continue to favor] oil companies and the most affluent Americans.”

In Washington, “some folks have their sights trained on you,” he told the union crowd, citing a statement from the 1948 presidential election. In that election, Truman surged right before Election Day to beat a favored GOP candidate, partly by slamming an active GOP-dominated Congress as a “do-nothing” Congress. “Things haven’t changed much … Americans have voted into Congress people who weren’t friendly to labor,” he declared. “What was true in 1948 is true in 2011.”

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