Politics & Policy

Portman Soars, but Trade Issues May Become Problematic

In the wake of a recent Reuters poll showing Democratic candidates falling behind in the Senate and Governor elections, the Ohio Democrats appear to have crystallized their message around a more specific issue than their previous generalized class-warfare messaging: Namely, that pro-trade Republicans are out to steal your job.

The Toledo Blade reports:

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern stood with assembled labor union leaders Tuesday to criticize Republican candidates for their support of international trade agreements that he said helped Wall Street and hurt Ohio families.

“After supporting the economic and trade policies that got us into this national recession these guys want to be put back in charge,” Mr. Redfern said. “We just can’t allow that to happen.”

He attacked U.S. Senate candidate Rob Portman, gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, and former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, GOP candidate for attorney general.

Ben Smith thinks this could maybe possibly kinda sorta be a good strategy:

And an Ohio Democrat sends on last month’s research from the Democratic group Third Way, which argued that “tying President Bush’s economic ideas to congressional Republicans dramatically alters the dynamics of the debate.” […]

My Ohio correspondent suggested that specific Republican candidates with tight ties to Bush — like Rob Portman, the former Bush Budget Director and trade rep — could be particularly vulnerable to this line of attack.

I’m viscerally skeptical of this, but then I live in the sped-up world of media churn, in which the Bush Administration feels like a long time ago. The Democrats are betting that reality for most voters hasn’t been sped up by that new media pace.

In other words, this isn’t really about trade. It’s about being able to point out that Portman set trade policy for someone named Bush, and then tarring that trade policy by association. There’s just one problem, according to The Hill:

Fratto said Democrats can’t even define what “Bush policies” mean at this point. “Whatever voters think of President Bush, they understand that President Obama is now in the driver’s seat, and they really don’t like where he’s taking them,” he said.

So in other words, tying NAFTA to Bush could work if people don’t know that NAFTA was a Clinton policy, but it could just as easily backfire if NAFTA isn’t mentioned at all, and voters are left to guess as to what Bush policies are being discussed. Oh, the travails of assuming that voters are stupid.


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