Monday, November 06, 2006

What's at stake tomorrow

From today's Wall Street Journal:

Protectionist Stance Is Gaining Clout
Democrats Benefit by Fighting Free Trade, And Next Congress Could Face Changing Tide

Bidding for a congressional seat held by a free-trade Republican for nearly two decades, Democrat Bruce Braley has gained an edge by taking the opposite view: bashing globalization.

In one of the most closely watched congressional races, Mr. Braley has made opposition to the Bush administration's free-trade agenda a centerpiece of his campaign. He has run ads blaming the state's job losses on President Bush's "unfair trade deals." He has urged more focus on labor rights in national trade policy and talked of using economic sanctions to keep America competitive. "Our workers aren't on a level playing field," he says.

Mr. Braley's stance has helped propel the 49-year-old lawyer, who is running against an unabashedly free-trade Republican, into position to reverse recent trends and secure a Democratic win in Iowa's First District. His strong showing not only underscores how trade concerns have emerged as a central issue in many of this year's races but also suggests a more-protectionist U.S. trade policy if Democrats take Congress....

Trade is a perennial political dividing line. But the issue is taking on importance this year, amid increased public anxiety over globalization and activism by trade opponents. The political committee formed by the Citizens Trade Campaign, a labor, farm and environmental coalition, dispatched organizers after Labor Day to a dozen battleground districts to rally free-trade opponents. Protectionist sentiments and economic nationalism appear to be emerging as symbols of a broader but less well-defined sense of economic unease, which is particularly apparent in the Midwest this year.

The Republican-controlled Congress has already showed its sensitivity to the issue, helping derail a deal by Arab-owned Dubai Ports World to purchase the commercial operations at five U.S. ports and approving millions of dollars to build a wall to stem the tide of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Republican leaders have put aside initiatives on the Bush free-trade agenda, delaying action on a trade pact with Peru and pushing the White House to commit to a plan to possibly curtail imports from Vietnam.

The trend may become more pronounced if Democrats take one or both houses of Congress. In the 1990s, a bloc of House Democrats regularly supported free-trade initiatives like the North American Free Trade Agreement. These numbers have fallen as doubts increase about globalization, with only 15 Democrats backing the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005. The emergence of candidates like Mr. Braley could accelerate the Democrats' transformation.