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AFL-CIO chief Trumka: Race is less of an issue in 2012 election

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, says race matters less – 'The sky didn't fall' – in the 2012 election, which is overwhelmingly about jobs and the economy.

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In this photo taken last year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is shown at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters in Washington.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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Four years ago, one of the big questions hanging over the presidential election was whether the nation was ready to elect its first African American president. Barack Obama’s victory spoke for itself.

Now, as President Obama seeks a second term, race still matters, but not as much, says Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the US’s largest trade union federation.

“I’d be foolish to say it’s still not an issue, because it is,” said Mr. Trumka, speaking after a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “But it’s less this time, because we’ve had four years. The sky didn’t fall, everybody didn’t grow tails and a pitchfork.”

This election, he says, is overwhelmingly about jobs and the economy, including health care and pensions. “That’s what [workers] care about.”

Referring to cultural matters such as gay marriage and guns, he says, “You’re going to find people that vote only on one of these issues. You’ll find some of them, but not as many as people think.”

The issues that people say they vote on, he says, “sometimes they’re code. It ain’t about guns, it’s about something else.”

The AFL-CIO is implementing its largest labor outreach plan ever during the campaign, with 400,000 volunteers focused on more than 20 battleground states, Trumka says. In six “core” states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Florida – the labor federation has had full-time staff on the ground for a couple of months running phone banks and door-knocking operations.

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