Labor leaders who want desperately to chase the Republicans from the White House are confronting a hurdle in their outreach to members: the question of race. Obama’s record on economic issues, they say, should put him way ahead of John McCain with working-class voters. But will the facts be enough to overcome some members’ deep-seated prejudice?
“We have people disguise it by saying he doesn’t have enough experience, or they’re not comfortable voting for him,” says Kyle McDermott, field director in the Steelworkers’ political department. “And we have people come at us and say, ‘Look, I’m not going to vote for a black person.’ They don’t use as kind words as I just did.” . . .
A September 8-10 national poll of likely voters by Democracy Corps found that in white union households, Obama gets 44 percent of the vote, 8 points below the local Democratic candidate for Congress and 9 points below the number of those who identify as Democrats. In 2004 white union households backed John Kerry by a 52.4 percent margin.
Putting aside people voting against their own interests, I had this pit of dread in my belly about Obama losing due to race. But now that pit's been replaced by a well of nausea due to the economy. It's striking how economic uncertainty has pushed unease about race off the table.
Now union members, military families, and other stereotypes in states as diverse as Michigan and Virginia are turning hard for Obama. A few weeks ago 527's were running race-baiting ads in Macomb county in Detroit suburbs, and now McCain pulls out of Michigan.
But what does this say about race relations? Does this mean that in bad times a visceral response to race doesn't matter, but in good times it does?