Obama Woos Unions in Pennsylvania

Sen. Barack Obama took his turn addressing the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Wednesday in Philadelphia. Just before his speech, Obama picked up an endorsement from the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, along with another pledged superdelegate.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continued to campaign in Pennsylvania, the site of the next big Democratic primary on April 22nd. This is the last day of Obama's bus tour across the state. He's been stopping in small towns and speaking to small groups - that's a change from the sort of mega-rallies that are a trademark of his campaign.

But today, Obama was back in front of a big crowd. In Philadelphia, it was his turn to make a pitch at the convention of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Philadelphia.

DON GONYEA: Senator Obama came here a day after Hillary Clinton. In her speech to the AFL-CIO, she poked fun at Obama and his less-than-stellar exhibition at a bowling alley this weekend. Today, Obama responded.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): And my poll numbers dropped a little bit after the bowling, but - which is why I'm going to tear up the bowling alley in the White House. We're putting up a basketball court.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: And while each of these appearances - Clinton's yesterday and Obama's today - was light on direct attacks on the other, Obama did make reference to the way Clinton yesterday likened herself to the lead character in the "Rocky" movies.

Sen. OBAMA: So, you know, I like the "Rocky" story, but we got to remember "Rocky" was a movie.

SIEGEL: Like Clinton, Obama used this speech to stress that he will be a president who supports workers.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: We're ready to play some offense for organized labor. It's time we had a president who didn't choke saying the word, union.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SIEGEL: Obama did not go as far as Senator Clinton in predicting the restoration of lost manufacturing jobs. He does say investment and technology can create a green economy to offset job declines.

Today, he also told the town hall meeting that he'd have Al Gore play a key role in developing his White House environmental policy. Also, Obama said that ending the war in Iraq would free up billions of dollars each month to pay for education and job training. His strongest political attacks were directed at Republican John McCain.

Sen. OBAMA: Like George Bush, Senator McCain is committed to more tax cuts for the rich, more trade agreements that fail to protect American workers. His response to the housing crisis amounts to basically standing on the sidelines and watching millions of Americans face foreclosure.

Both Clinton and Obama claim strong support from labor unions. She has, among others, the giant American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME. Today, Obama was cheered by the Service Employees International Union and the Philadelphia local of the Boilermakers. That's 47-year-old Fred Chamberlain's union.

Mr. FRED CHAMBERLAIN (Member, The Boilermakers Union): You know, he's all about the middle class, you know? So he didn't come from this big, lovely, little thing, but he has great ideas. I mean, just a lot of good stuff come out of him. I mean, how can you sit here and vote for somebody else when you got a gentleman telling you stuff like that?

But also watching today was 54-year-old AFSCME member Michael Fox. He says he's not sure Obama is ready for the job. He also spoke of something that is a Clinton strength in this state: history.

Mr. MICHAEL FOX (Member, AFSCME): Well, I have been a follower of the Clintons obviously for a long time, and I've had the opportunity to meet personally with Hillary Clinton. And contrary to popular belief, she is a nice person.

Clinton still has a lead in the state, though polls do show the gap narrowing some.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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