"As goes Ohio, so goes the nation," we heard repeatedly last night at the
Washington banquet celebrating today's swearing in of Democratic
Representative Sherrod Brown as Ohio's new Senator.
So, how did Ohio go? Solidly victorious for Democrats who campaigned on a
progressive message of replacing the failed NAFTA-WTO trade agenda,
creating good jobs, providing health care and safeguarding hard earned pensions.
Um, isn't Ohio that state we all saw tinted red on election eve 2000 and 2004 - the place where the GOP did a clever rural strategy focusing on guns, God and gays?
Sherrod's supporters, a crowd replete with white working class males (that
voting bloc so elusive to some Democrats) and a diverse mix of others,
CHEERED the montage of hard hitting campaign ads attacking DeWine's votes
for job-killing trade agreements and tax cuts for the wealthy as if
watching the home team win the Super Bowl.
As research by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch documented, (HERE: "Election 2006: No to Staying the Course on Trade"), Sherrod's progressive economic justice message also proved politically successful for many of the freshmen who comprise the Democratic majority in the 110th
Congress. The incoming class may have differences on some issues, but on
trade and globalization they are remarkably united.
Our research showed that while most Democratic midterm candidates had good positions on trade, among those that made a strong fair trade message a
campaign priority, most won, while among those that did not, seats
Democrats expected to pick up were lost.
A remarkable finding is that locally-tuned versions of the fair trade message won elections for House Democrats in "pro-NAFTA" corn belt states, including Bush-red Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri and Senate seats in red Montana, Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
After today's swearing in ceremony, U.S. voters will have added a net gain
of 7 Senate and 30 House seats to the fair trade column. These candidates
will replace anti-fair trade incumbents, including many senior House GOP trade leaders whose seats were not considered competitive by the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Indeed dig down a bit and you can understand the 2006 results as a fair
trade sweep rather than just an anti-war or a Democratic sweep. The difference between the many war critic Democrats who won and those war
critic Democrats who lost was the strength of their trade and economic
message. It was not enough to be against the war. Voters wanted to know what candidates are for that could improve their families' economic
As new Global Trade Watch research to be released tomorrow shows (which
you can find here), the degree
of fair trade messaging often made the difference between the candidates
in competitive races that won and those that lost their races. Global
Trade Watch's fair trade index weighed the prevalence of fair trade messaging in given races (by considering whether paid trade campaign ads
were used, if the candidate's literature focused on the issue, if the
issue get press coverage, etc.)
Our research director, Todd Tucker, found that, out of Rahm Emmanuel's DCCC top tier 20 candidates, 11 lost - and all of these scored low on the fair trade index. Meanwhile, 6 out of the 9 who emerged victorious received top fair trade grades. Meanwhile, all three challenger candidates who won on Election Day that were not on the DCCC's priority lists at all
were A+'s on the fair trade index. At least 25 campaigns ran paid TV ads
highlighting fair trade positions, including in these races. And, the only outgoing House Democrats who did not voluntarily retire or move to the
Senate or a Governorship were Reps. Jim Davis of Florida and Harold Ford
Jr. of Tennessee, who failed in their attempts to win Florida's
Governorship and Tennessee's open Senate seat. The two were on the ever-shortening list of Democrats who still thought NAFTA was a good thing and voted against the rest of the caucus on trade regularly.
The DCCC picked its top tier (which in turn directed the funds and efforts
of many other donors and Democratic-leaning groups that follow the DCCC's
lead) from Tammy Duckworth in Illinois 6 to Ken Lucas in Kentucky 4 because these races were deemed "winnable." Despite stacks of polling data
and focus group evidence that a fair trade message resonates in-district,
there were also tactical decisions not embrace stronger messages on globalization.
For instance, Emmanuel played a heavy hand in ensuring Duckworth beat fair
trade champion Christine Cegelis in the Illinois 6 primary - knocking the
issue out of the race and alienating what would have been a base of activists.
Or for instance, consider Pennsylvania 6 where GOP incumbent Jim Gerlach
narrowly dodged a second challenge by Democrat Lois Murphy - a case we
document in tomorrow's report. The district includes some Philly suburbs and Reading, which has been slammed by trade-related manufacturing job
losses. Gerlach took considerable heat after voting for CAFTA and other
retrograde trade deals.
Murphy's trade position was fine. But, she did not emphasize the issue at all. And, offers by several groups to run a trade-specific Reading GOTV program were rebuffed by the DCCC or the Murphy campaign.
Murphy's margin in most Reading precincts dropped in 2006 relative to 2004. Yet,
Senator Bob Casey, whose campaign emphasized changing our failed trade
policy, not only beat Murphy's margin in all Reading precincts, but won a
Reading precinct she lost. Could a focus on trade have made the difference? The race to unset GOP incumbent and CAFTA-supporter Mike
Fitzpatrick in the neighboring 8th Philly suburban district was considered
more of a long shot. Today Democrat Patrick Murphy is being sworn in as the new 8th District Representative after beating Fitzpatrick in a
campaign that aggressively advocated fair trade and hammered Fitzpatrick's
Between the 2004 and 2006 elections, in their voting record and messaging, most Democrats re-connected with middle class economics. While 102
Democrats voted for NAFTA in 1993, blurring the partisan differentiation
for working class voters and depressing labor household turnout, only 15
House Democrats supported the CAFTA NAFTA expansion to Central America in
2005. The Democrats framed the CAFTA as a referendum on the NAFTA model -
transferring ownership of that model to the GOP president and Congress who championed it. The Senate CAFTA vote was unusually tight with 45 senators
voting against it. And all congressional Democrats said to be exploring
2008 presidential bids voted against CAFTA - including several who had supported NAFTA over a decade earlier.
Yet, there is some evidence that some top Democratic Party officials may
not understand the voter mandate for a change on trade policy.
Despite the midterm's clear lesson that demanding a new trade agenda is good policy and good politics, ninety-two Democrats voted for a lame-duck
session trade package that will subject the U.S. labor force to more
low-wage competition from Vietnam. Several prominent Democrats have hinted that they might be open to pursuing only modestly tweaked versions of the
failed status quo trade policy. This includes Senate Finance Chair Max
Baucus who is up for election in 2008 in "red" state Montana. Yup,
Montana, that state where Senator-elect Jon Tester just won on a campaign
that made fair trade a top issue following on a Democratic Governor who
campaigned on similar themes.
Many of the midterm election's victorious fair trade candidates campaigned on replacing the undemocratic Nixon-era Fast Track mechanism for trade
agreement negotiations with a modern process that allows Congress to fill
its constitutional role of setting the terms of trade policy. Baucus has called for granting President Bush more of the Fast Track that got us into
NAFTA and WTO in the first place when the archaic Presidential power grab
device finally (thankfully) terminates in mid-2007.
It's obvious that folks interested in changing our country's approach to globalization towards policies that can ensure benefits for the majority
still have plenty of educating, organizing and politicking to do. (Stay
www.tradewatch.org for the latest and sign up for action alerts!)
But, it is also clear that the midterm election was a turning point in
Contenders and donors in 2008 will have to recognize that voters are ready to move beyond "staying the course" on the failed trade policies of the
past and to embrace an agenda which promotes economic security and
mobility for America's rightfully anxious Middle Class.
The folks at last night's Sherrod Brown event did not look like your
typical D.C. political dinner attendees. The diverse energized crowd, many
of whom had arrived via a nine-hour bus ride, was the antithesis of cynical: they were Americans who had spent endless weekends and evenings
talking to their neighbors and walking precincts because they believed
that they could make a difference by working to elect someone who would make things better for their families' futures.
If the Democratic Party fails to offer Middle Class Americans a serious
agenda of fair trade, fair tax policy, good jobs, health care and
retirement security - a clear different path of economic improvement - then these hopeful folks might be asking in 2008: "What's the matter with
Lori Wallach is director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. To get involved in keeping the 110th Congress accountable to their fair trade mandate, visit Citizens Trade Campaign at www.citizenstrade.org.