Race to the finish

Sprinting into the homestretch, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is widening his lead over GOP rival John McCain. Obama is addressing enormous cheering crowds in battleground states across the nation.

More than 100,000 gathered to hear him in Gateway Arch park in St. Louis, near the courthouse where before the Civil War, fugitive slave Dred Scott appealed against his return to slavery. Later that day Obama drew 75,000 across the state in Kansas City, Mo.

McCain, on the other hand, drew a paltry 2,000 in an affluent St. Louis suburb two days later.

Like other bellwether states, Missouri is trending toward Obama.

“I think Obama is going to win Missouri,” Jim Wilkerson, who attended the St. Louis rally, told the World. “The people were stretched wall-to-wall to hear Obama speak.”

Wilkerson, a member of Operating Engineers Local 513, is also active in the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. He voiced pride that organized labor played a major role in Obama’s rally — the largest political campaign event in U.S. history. The labor movement also helped register nearly 200,000 new voters in Missouri, Wilkerson said. “That could be Obama’s margin of victory.”

The AFL-CIO launched the labor movement’s largest-ever get-out-the-vote effort Oct. 21 with 250,000 volunteers working to turn out 13 million union voters to elect Obama and increase Democratic majorities in Congress.

The labor movement and its allies are also engaged in the biggest-ever “election protection” campaign to ensure voting rights of an estimated 10 million newly registered voters. They face a vicious drive by the McCain-Palin campaign and the Republican Party to purge them from voter rolls amid hysterical claims of “voter fraud.”

Targeted is ACORN, the low-income multi-racial community organization that has registered over 1.3 million new voters, a majority African American and Latino. A miniscule number of those registrations were faulty and ACORN flagged them when delivering them to boards of election, as required by law.

The Michigan Republican Party admitted in court last week it engaged in an “illegal scheme” to “use mortgage foreclosure lists to deny foreclosure victims their right to vote.” The settlement of a lawsuit to block the vote-scrubbing plan “has the force of law and ensures that the Republicans cannot disenfranchise families facing foreclosures,” the court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week reversed a lower court ruling in Ohio that upheld a Republican lawsuit aimed at stripping 200,000 new voters of their voting rights. Over 700,000 new voters have been signed up there.

Donita Judge, lead attorney in Ohio for the Advancement Project, a voting rights group, hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling. “This is a real win for these new voters,” she told the World by telephone. “These lawsuits are basically just vote suppression, an attempt to intimidate voters and keep them away from the polls. Whenever you have an attempt to suppress votes in a battleground state like Ohio, it could have a big impact. Bush’s margin in Ohio in the 2004 election was something like 119,000 votes.”

The high court ruled the Ohio Republican Party had no legal standing for its lawsuit and the federal courts had no jurisdiction to intervene, she said. Furthermore, Ohio state law bars any purging of voter rolls within 19 days of an election. “The Ohio Republicans put all their eggs in one basket and the Supreme Court ruled against them,” she said.

The labor movement, along with ACORN and other grassroots organizations, signed up 430,000 new voters in Florida this year — 58 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican and 18 percent third party or independent. Both Pinellas and Orange counties were flipped from majority Republican to majority Democrat along the crucial Interstate 4 corridor from Orlando to Tampa.

Memories of Florida’s role in the stolen 2000 election are still fresh, including Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ purging of 96,000 mostly African American voters from voting rolls that year. But Gov. Charlie Crist seems wary of repeating that sordid history. He told reporters there have been few problems with faulty voter registrations or enrolling new voters in his state.

Joining Obama at an Orlando rally of over 50,000, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “we are 15 days from the finish line and we cannot falter, we cannot stop, we cannot take a single vote for granted.” With Florida having the nation’s highest mortgage foreclosure rate and disastrously high unemployment, “We cannot risk four more years of the same failed Republican policies.”

Obama said later he is inviting the governors of Michigan, Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico to an Oct.28 “Jobs Summit” in Lake Worth, Fla., to discuss measures to stave off what could be the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. All four states went for Bush in 2004 but are now leaning toward Obama.