By Annie Groer

Rich Trumka, the burly ex-coal miner who now heads the national AFL-CIO, exhorted Massachusetts union members on Monday to set aside “superficial” sexism and vote for Democrat Elizabeth Warren over incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown. The former state lawmaker beat Democrat Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, making him the first GOP senator from the Bay State in nearly 40 years. 

Trumka is clearly worried Scott may soon defeat another Democratic woman, and his remarks in Dorchester, Mass., against gender bias evoked his 2008 plea in Pennsylvania about the need for union members to overcome racial prejudice to elect Barack Obama as president.

“We have a problem because some voters — and let me be perfectly honest, I’m talking about voters who look just like me — have not stood up beside Elizabeth Warren to support her,” Trumka said during a campaign rally. “Listen to me closely. I’ve said before that there are dozens of good reasons to vote for Barack Obama and one bad reason not to — and that’s because he’s black. Now hear me about Elizabeth Warren. There may be dozens of reasons for us to vote for her, but it’s crazy not to vote for her because she’s a woman, or because she’s a college professor, or for any other superficial reason.”

The Senate race — considered the most closely watched and expensive in the country — is nearly a dead heat in seesawing polls.

 Meanwhile, the candidates’ self-imposed vow not to allow outside PAC ads (which tend to be highly negative) to maintain a semblance of  civility has evaporated in recent days, reports The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty. Warren, a first-time candidate, is a Harvard Law School professor who was instrumental in creating the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to cut down on Wall Street abuses. Brown is a former state lawmaker who came to Washington pledging to work with Democrats, as well as Republicans.

With polling so tight, both sides are hoping to wring as many votes as possible from what they see as their natural constituencies.

In 2008, about 31 percent of Massachusetts voters lived in a union household, noted Trumka. “If this holds and nearly one-third of the electorate is from a union household again in 2012, every three points we increase our vote for Warren equals a 1 percent increase in Warren’s overall vote.” 

Like the increasingly nasty candidates themselves, Trumka took off the gloves to call Brown “a fake and a fraud” who “votes every time with the one percent and the Tea Party…Do we want a buddy who will pat us on the back? Who wears a Bruins jersey with the boys? Or a leader who will fight for our right to form unions and bargain for a better life?” The union president cited Brown’s votes “for tax cuts for outsourcers…against unemployment benefits for jobless workers.…to deny workers the ability to organize and bargain for better wages.”

Defending Brown, campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said that “rank-and-file union members like Scott because they see him as a regular guy with an independent voting record who is focused on creating jobs and reining in government spending.”

Annie Groer is a former Washington Post staff writer and columnist and reporter whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, Town & Co and other publications.