The Ohio Debate Primer on Trade

Tonight, the Democratic candidates for president will debate in Cleveland just one week before Ohio's pivotal primary. Most analysts expect America's lobbyist-written trade policies to take center stage in the Buckeye State -- a place hit hard by trade-related job losses and wage cuts.

In the lead-up to this debate, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been sparring over the North American Free Trade Agreement -- a proxy battle over the larger issue of trade. Undoubtedly, this NAFTA argument will bleed into the Tuesday night debate, and so here's an objective look at the issue of trade and the records of both candidates that you might want to keep next to you as the rhetoric starts to fly (note: Neither the Campaign for America's Future or me personally have endorsed either candidate -- this is a strictly nonpartisan, non-candidate-endorsing review).

NATIONAL POLL NUMBERS: Americans now strongly oppose the NAFTA trade model -- the model that includes all sorts of protections for corporate profits (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, etc.) but no similar protections for other priorities (wages, jobs, the environment, human rights, etc.). In October, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found the vast majority of Americans believe our current trade policies are bad for the U.S. economy. That included Republicans by a two-to-one margin. In January, Fortune magazine's poll showed 68 percent of Americans say our trading partners are benefiting the most from our trade policy. A December 2005 Gallup Poll shows that these numbers are part of a trend: The number of Americans who say our current trade policies are a threat have climbed back to 1992 levels. Finally, a post-election poll in 2006 found that unfair trade deals was listed as the number one concern among Republicans voters who considered supporting a Democratic candidate for Congress.

OHIO POLL NUMBERS: For the two Democratic candidates, the issue could not be more politically significant in Ohio. Back in 2004, exit polls from Ohio's Democratic primary found seven in 10 Democratic voters blamed foreign trade for taking away jobs. Two years later, Sherrod Brown crushed his Republican opponent in Ohio's 2006 U.S. Senate race on a campaign promising to fight lobbyist-written trade policies. A Rasmussen Poll just out today finds "just 16% of Likely Democratic Primary Voters believe the North American Free Trade Agreement--NAFTA--is good for America." Fifty-five percent "say the trade agreement negotiated by the Clinton Administration is bad for the nation." Additionally, "By a 53% to 14% margin, voters believe that Obama opposes NAFTA while there are mixed perceptions on where Clinton stands." In all, "35% believe she favors NAFTA, 31% believe she opposes it and 34% are not sure. This issue is critical in a state that has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs."

CANDIDATES' PUBLIC STATEMENTS: Both Clinton and Obama have pledged to amend NAFTA-style trade deals, add tougher labor and environmental standards, and better enforce trade laws on the books. On the specific issue of NAFTA, over the last week, Clinton has been denying she ever supported that 1993 trade agreement. Here is a look at her public statements about NAFTA in the past. Obama, meanwhile, has been attacking Clinton for publicly supporting NAFTA up until 2004. And though Obama has never endorsed or bragged about NAFTA as Clinton did, he has made statements suggesting he at one point supported the NAFTA model. You can see some of those statements here, courtesy of a Clinton mailer.

CANDIDATES' VOTING RECORD: Both Clinton and Obama voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement -- a bill that expanded the NAFTA model. Both also voted for the Peru Free Trade Agreement, whose labor and environmental standards were mildly stronger than NAFTA's, but whose overall structure was still the destructive NAFTA model.

Cross-posted from CAF