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Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, traveled the country for Barack Obama four years ago. He hoped to persuade skeptical working-class white voters in places like southwestern Virginia and southern Ohio to vote for an African-American with an unusual name.

Last month, Mr. Roberts went on a West Virginia radio show with a different message. He compared the way Mr. Obama’s administration has treated the coal industry to the Navy SEALs’ killing of Osama bin Laden. He now says the union might choose not to endorse Mr. Obama and sit out the election instead.

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