Posted: February 26, 2008 7:00 PM
In Ohio, it's NAFTA, NAFTA, NAFTA
In the week preceding a high-stakes Democratic presidential primary contest in Ohio between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the campaigns find themselves fighting over a major trade deal signed into law by Clinton’s husband.
The North American Free Trade Agreement is a sore subject in Ohio, where thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost to cheaper foreign factories. The Wall Street Journal reported that the state has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000 and that voters there rated the economy as the most important issue.
Clinton and Obama are now battling over NAFTA, with Obama sending out a mailer in the state tying Hillary Clinton to former President Bill Clinton’s policy. Sen. Clinton shot back that the mailer used false and discredited information and responded with both an automated call and a mailer of her own.
Both candidates visited Lorain, Ohio, this week. The city and county have been rocked by home foreclosures and lost jobs, Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko told an Online NewsHour reporter in Ohio. He is endorsing Clinton, in part because she has addressed the home foreclosure issue, he said.
Obama, speaking in the city Sunday, defended his criticism of Clinton.
“Sen. Clinton also said I’m wrong to point out that she once supported NAFTA. But the fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president,” Obama said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Clinton came to Lorain on Tuesday, appearing with Kransienko and speaking to a crowd of 1,500 people in the gymnasium at Admiral King High School. She told the crowd that she wanted to try to stop the flow of jobs overseas by fixing NAFTA, a sentiment that generated a big cheer from the crowd.
Clinton also told the crowd that while she doesn’t mind debating Obama on NAFTA, she doesn’t appreciate his campaign sending “false and misleading information” in the mail, referencing the Obama mailer.
Longtime Ohio Democratic strategist Greg Haas, who supports Obama, said he doesn’t think the NAFTA issue has the pull the campaigns think it does.
“I actually think the NAFTA issue is overrated,” Haas said. “It’s probably overrated on Obama’s part. On Sen. Clinton’s side, the fact that she’s been attacked in this victim role isn’t going to fly.”
Haas said that while he expects Obama to get a minor boost from his attack on Clinton’s association with NAFTA, he said it won’t compare to the support 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot gleaned in Northeast Ohio — a heavily industrial and Democratic areas — when he campaigned against NAFTA.
Tom Lahetta, a Clinton supporter and homebuilder who attended her rally in Lorain, said he is unhappy with NAFTA’s effect on Ohio, but was so pleased with the state of the country under Bill Clinton’s presidency that he is willing to overlook Sen. Clinton’s association with her husband’s policy.
The issue of trade is expected to arise during Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Cleveland, Ohio. The forum will be the candidates’ last televised debate before March 4 primary contests in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island.
While Clinton has maintained a lead over Obama in Ohio polls, the Illinois senator has lately been closing the gap. A recent polling average has Clinton with 49 percent support to Obama’s 42 percent, according to Real Clear Politics.