National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka offered a rousing endorsement today of Missouri's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, Robin Carnahan, and laid out the stakes of this fall's election in graphic terms for the state and national labor movement.
"The party of 'No' doesn't want your vote," Trumka told several hundred state labor leaders gathered at the downtown Renaissance hotel for their annual statewide AFL-CIO convention. "All they want you to do is stay home out of frustration."
Carnahan followed up with a similar message, in which she told the crowd of recently running into a would-be voter in southeast Missouri. He said he'd vote for her Nov. 2 if he was home that day. The nominee said it was up to Missouri labor leaders, and other key backers, to make sure that such less-than-enthused Democrats get to the polls on Election Day or cast absentee ballots ahead of time.
The public needs to understand the importance of electing her and other Democrats, Carnahan said, as she asserted that Republican rival Roy Blunt and his allies "forget who they work for" by seeking to protect corporate interests, the wealthy and the well-connected.
She contended that Blunt disparaged extended unemployment benefits as "a bailout for those who don't want to work" and added federal help the states as "a bailout for teachers."
Instead, she continued, Blunt favors bailing out only those on Wall Street and in banks. "We have got to stop these bailouts ... of those 'too big to fail'," Carnahan said. "Stop these tax breaks for folks who move our jobs overseas."
"We do not have to be destined on this path we're on!" Carnahan declared, igniting applause.
Carnahan then launched into her standard attacks, as she highlighted Blunt's status as one of the top congressional recipients of lobbyist money and accuses him of speaking "a bunch of bull ... when he says he'll hold the line on spending" after 14 years of supporting big spending while in Congress.
Carnahan also renewed her call for a lifetime ban on members of Congress ever becoming lobbyists.
Carnahan's feisty speech came as her campaign also unveiled on TV today a new, even-harsher attack ad that spotlights various news articles over the years that criticized Blunt's corporate efforts, including a failed bid to help tobacco giant Philip Morris.
The Blunt campaign replied that the ad was yet another example of "more untruthfulness, more distractions" by the Carnahan campaign.
Labor votes can be key force in Missouri, Illinois
Carnahan, Trumka and other speakers -- including Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon -- said that the 400,000-plus labor households in the state (and 1.3 million in neighboring Illinois) will play a major role in determining this fall's election outcomes, nationally and in Missouri.
State AFL-CIO president Hugh McVey said there was no question that labor made the difference in 2006, when Democrat Claire McCaskill narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Jim Talent for the U.S. Senate.
But McVey and others also candidly acknowledged the cultural, political and economic challenges facing labor this year. More than a quarter of the state's union members in the construction trades now are out of work, during what normally are peak summer construction months, and that number is expected to increase this fall.
There's also the matter of President Barack Obama's race, which some labor leaders publicly and privately said today is being used by Republicans to oust Democrats by fueling racial tensions among white conservatives still upset that "a black man," as McVey put it, is now president.
Carnahan, McVey and Trumka said that labor members and activists need to highlight how their jobs and families -- already financially strained -- will be threatened even more if Republicans retake control of Washington.
A key part of labor's anti-GOP message this fall is the assertion that Republicans are preparing to go after Social Security, by calling for raising the retirement age, and attacking Medicare. "I think they (Republicans) smell blood in the water," said local union member Dennis Clancy.
Trumka called Blunt "a man who's campaign against the middle-class for 14 years," and cited his votes in favor of privatizing Social Security and against extending jobless benefits.,
"You've got to beat this guy, and you've got to lift Robin up," Trumka said.
Trumka said in an interview afterward that he planned to focus on 25 states, including Missouri, where key Senate and congressional contests will likely determine whether Democrats retain control of Congress, or if Republicans snag one or both chambers.
The crowd roared when Trumka asserted in his speech that he referred to the likely Republican choice for speaker -- House Minority Leader John Boehner -- as "the tan wonder."
Referring to Boehner's acknowledged love of golf, Trumka declared, "His idea of job creation is to hire a second caddy."
Boehner, by the way, is slated to be in Missouri this weekend to campaign for Republican congressional candidates, including St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.