Competing Pressures In Pennsylvania

(CBS)

From CBS Radio Correspondent Barry Bagnato:

(WEST MIFFLIN, PA.) So much is being made about racism in this race and the negatives, especially for Barack Obama the bigger story may be lost. This campaign is forcing groups such as labor unions to openly confront the issue because race preferences are threatening the union's political goals.

In United Steelworkers Union Local 2227's concrete block hall here, international Secretary-Treasury Jim English took the stage at a "Steel Blitz for Obama" rally. Teaming with the Pittsburgh Steelers, union leaders and activists are being bused around to train and motivate activists to go door-to-door. English's entire speech was about racism, not something you normally hear in these halls. "If we all do what we're supposed to do, five years, ten years from now, we won't be saying, I won't vote for somebody because of the color of their skin." Fading photos of Democratic Presidents from FDR to LBJ sagged from a wall. Referring to JFK, English said, "It was always a source of puzzlement to me that people said they wouldn't vote for him because he was Catholic. Well, history repeats itself, doesn't it?"

Steamed hot dogs. Free soda from the lone machine. Legendary Steeler chairman Dan Rooney on stage. No matter. Barely 50 chairs were filled. Local 227 has nearly 900 members.

Labor dissent, and large, influential Pennsylvania voting blocks that favor Republicans, give the McCain camp reason to believe it can win this state. At the same rally, State Representative Marc Gergely railed against gun-toting union members who favor the Republican nominee, shouting, "When Barack Obama becomes President, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to wake up and go hunting. I'm still going to have my guns. I'm still going to have my bows. It's not going to be an issue." Among voters four years ago, almost half were from gun households.

Nearly a third of voters here are white Catholics. In Oil City, a struggling Allegheny River community that used to be home to Quaker State and Pennzoil, Roman Catholic churches are cutting services and sharing priests to stay afloat. Below red brick steeples rising high on a hilltop, abortion foe Judy Anderton walked out of Mass and calmly called herself a single-issue voter. "Unfortunately, people look to the economy as the main focus in this election and the life issue is the most important to me." The economy WAS the main focus of others who spoke on the steps of St. Joseph's Church. One man, a retired postmaster, said he had lost $10,000 in a money market account in the past week. The economy? "You bet," another man said, adding, "and I don't like Iraq either." Frank Gesing is reluctantly moving toward the Democrats, calling his choice "pretty tough, pretty tough. Maybe Obama...I don't know." Sure, the Democrat IS being weakened here by prejudice-fueled union divisions. But support within a number of key groups John McCain needs to pullout Pennsylvania is being eroded by concerns about the economy.