DETROIT - Barack Obama vamped a few words from Motown songstress Aretha Franklin's classic "Chain of Fools" here yesterday before turning serious about the storm that forced millions of people along the Gulf coast to abandon their homes.
"There's a time for us to argue politics, but there is a time for us to come together as Americans," the Democratic presidential nominee said, explaining that he dropped plans to give a political speech. "My main goal today is to ask you to help."
Mr. Obama asked the crowd of union supporters at Hart Plaza along the Detroit River to send their thoughts and prayers to the victims of the hurricane, and he called for volunteers to give time and money.
An hour later, the U.S. senator from Illinois urged labor supporters at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 671 hall in Monroe to do the same thing.
Mr. Obama's Labor Day speech in Monroe wrapped up a four-day bus tour to the political battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. He was joined on part of that trip - including Toledo on Sunday - by his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
Underscoring the importance of Ohio in the general election, presumed Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona was in Dayton for a large rally on Friday and appeared yesterday at a Waterville nonprofit that sends relief supplies to disaster areas.
Mr. Obama said he was monitoring Hurricane Gustav's progress and said it was certain to do damage. In Detroit, he asked for a few moments for silent prayer.
In Monroe, he linked the storm threatening Louisiana with what he called "the quiet storm" in the lives of people facing loss of jobs, homes, or health care.
"Not all storms get on TV, but they're there, and the same principle we have to apply to the storm taking place in Louisiana we've got to apply in Michigan, we've got to apply right across the border in Ohio. We've got to have an attitude that everyone gets shelter from the storm," he said.
In a tribute to organized labor, which is said to be unified behind his candidacy, Mr. Obama said the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, and improvements in worker safety are all because of the labor movement.
"Had it not been for organized labor, America would not have the middle class that we know," he said.
"I'm a labor guy. I believe in the labor movement. I believe in the American worker. I believe they have a right to organize. I believe they have a right to collectively bargain. I believe it's important to have a president who doesn't choke on the word union," he said in Detroit. "And I believe we've got to have a Department of Labor that believes in labor."
Mr. Obama is a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the requirement of a secret ballot to authorize union representation in a business. Union leaders say management uses the requirement to mislead and intimidate workers.
Mr. McCain opposes the measure, which he says would deprive workers of their right to vote in a fair election process.
In introducing dignitaries in Detroit, Mr. Obama thanked the "Queen of soul, Aretha Franklin."
"I started singing for her a little bit," he said, then crooned, "Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools."
In Monroe, Senator Obama sternly denied any role by his campaign in the swirl of rumors surrounding the disclosure that newly named Republican running mate Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter is pregnant.
Mr. Obama said anyone in his campaign found fomenting rumors about the Palin situation would be fired.
"I think people's families are off-limits, and people's children are especially off-limits" in politics, he said.
Alaska Governor Palin and her husband, Todd, announced yesterday that their 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant.
To the allegation attributed to the McCain camp that someone in the Obama campaign may have fueled rumors involving Ms. Palin and her family, Mr. Obama shot back: "I am offended by that statement. There is no evidence at all that any of this involved us. We don't go after people's families, we don't get them involved in the politics. It is not appropriate, and it is not relevant." .
The woman who introduced Mr. Obama in Monroe - Deirdre Rae Younglove, 37, of Monroe - bemoaned the economy that has cost the area thousands of jobs in auto manufacturing.
She said her husband took a buyout from his job as a machinist for a car maker and went back to school. She said she's looking for a full-time job to support her family, which has four children.
"It's not an economy that works for Americans, it's a broken economy, so now is the time to get involved," Ms. Younglove said.
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