By Kevin Bogardus
DENVER — A prominent union leader on Tuesday blamed racism for Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) failure to build a big lead over GOP rival Sen. John McCain.
Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said many workers are considering voting for McCain (R-Ariz.) because of his military service and status as a hero of the Vietnam War.
McEntee said several union members had approached him, saying they could not vote for Obama because of his race. He also said some local union presidents have failed to support Obama out of fear.
“There are some local union presidents that are afraid — yes, that’s the word, afraid — to hand out literature for Barack Obama,” said McEntee.
McEntee said union members need to consider Obama’s voting record on labor issues, not his race.
“You can’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black? That’s bulls–t. Absolute bulls–t,” said McEntee to a standing ovation from the crowd.
McEntee said that the race between Obama and McCain should not be close and that the Democrat should have a much bigger lead in the polls.
“We have to wake up, wake up our own members,” said McEntee. “It’s a no-brainer, a no-brainer.”
McEntee encouraged the Illinois delegates to campaign in other states for Obama, since they know the senator best.
Key Democrats this week have voiced worries that Obama does not have a bigger lead over McCain, who is hampered by President Bush’s unpopularity. Other union officials also have cited Obama’s race as a reason why some white union members are not embracing him.
McEntee said McCain is not a friend of unions and members must campaign for Obama and spread the message of his support for labor. He said unions will be in deep trouble if Obama is defeated for the presidency.
“If we don’t win those states — excuse my language, I know it’s early — but we will be in the proverbial s–thouse for the next four years,” McEntee said.