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TPP Will Be a Factor in Several 2016 Races

Feingold made trade a pillar of his attacks on Johnson in 2010. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Feingold made trade a pillar of his attacks on Johnson in 2010. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House on Thursday released the much anticipated text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement — a trade deal that will likely play out in a number of top House and Senate contests in 2016, whether or not it’s passed by Congress.

Most of those races are located in the Rust Belt — states where past trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement from the 1990s are often blamed for the sharp decline in manufacturing jobs that once made the region prosper.

In many of these races, Republican and Democratic candidates have disagreed on Congress’ fast-tracking the deal. The trade deal focuses on breaking down barriers for U.S. exports to Pacific Rim countries, but critics fear it will hurt manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

Hillary Clinton came out against the deal in October.

Critics Pounce on TPP Text

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TPP is likely to be scheduled for an up-or-down vote in 2016. (Congress is not allowed to amend the deal thanks to the way it was negotiated.) And whether the deal is passed or not, it will put all of the incumbents in these races on record supporting or opposing the trade policy.

Many in Congress are still reading the deal and haven’t come out yet with official positions on the final text. But that hasn’t stopped their Democratic challengers from calling on them to oppose the measure, often trying to tie its importance for jobs in their districts to that of the Export-Import Bank.

Here are the competitive races where trade is likely to come up as an issue in 2016:

Ohio Senate: The once-manufacturing mecca of Ohio looks like a shadow of its former self — with hundreds of thousands of the state’s manufacturing jobs now gone.

Many in the state blame NAFTA — a trade deal passed in 1994 with Mexico and Canada. As a result, political operatives say union groups and blue collar workers in the state are skeptical that any trade deal could be beneficial to their state’s economy.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland, the likely Democratic nominee, was a strong opponent of NAFTA when he was in Congress. Sen. Rob Portman was a NAFTA supporter, and had a stint as the U.S. Trade Representative from 2005 until 2006 — giving him a clear record on the issue.

Strickland has already attacked Portman on the issue on the campaign trail, with the narrative likely to continue.

But Ohio Republicans say trade talk is tied directly to the issue of jobs and the economy. And they say they are happy to litigate the job creation record from Strickland’s time as governor, in which they say the state lost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Pennsylvania Senate: Both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — the two most populous cities in the Keystone State — are blue-collar towns, where unions still wield power in voter turnout.

And with unions for the most part coming out against the trade deal, Democratic strategists in the state say they can envision the issue coming up in 2016 when the party is heavily targeting GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey.

Democrat Katie McGinty, a former top aide to Gov. Tom Wolf, has already come out against the trade deal and continues to voice her opposition. Her Democratic primary challenger, former Rep. Joe Sestak, has also been critical of past trade agreements.

That’s in contrast to Toomey, who supported legislation earlier this year to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate the TPP agreement. But Toomey also supported Trade Adjustment Assistance, legislation that would provide resources and training to offset any job losses from a trade deal — which could provide cover on any attacks.

Wisconsin Senate: If there’s one talking point campaigns always push, it’s jobs. But when it comes to trade, Sen. Ron Johnson and former Sen. Russ Feingold have different opinions about what the deal will do for the state’s economy.

Opposing trade deals has been a central part of former Feingold’s candidacy — past and present. In his 2010 re-election bid, his campaign touted his opposition to NAFTA in multiple ads.

Responding to news that a deal had been reached last month, Feingold called TPP “a raw deal written in secret for corporate interests at the expense of Wisconsin jobs.”

Explaining his support for TPA in June, Johnson argued that not participating in the trade agreement would cost Wisconsin jobs. He has not made a public announcement about the final deal.

Minnesota’s 8th District: To Wisconsin’s north and west lies Minnesota’s 8th District, home to the Iron Range and its struggling iron ore mining and steel industries. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan, who faces a repeat challenge from Republican Stewart Mills, called the the deal a “terrible, job-killing policy” in a statement Thursday.

Specifically, he knocked TPP for threatening to dump into the U.S. “low-grade, foreign government-subsidized steel” that would compete with what’s produced in his district.

Mills could not be reached for comment Friday about his position on the deal. In a local television interview earlier this year , Mills suggested he “may be in support of it” if the deal addressed the influx of “cheap Chinese steel” that he said is hurting jobs in the Iron Range.

The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the 8th District a Democrat-Favored contest, and if Mills comes out in support of the deal, look for TPP to be a factor in the race.

Michigan’s 8th District: The auto industry isn’t the powerhouse it once was in this district, but manufacturing is still a big component of the local economy.

In the Safe Republican district, actress Melissa Gilbert is challenging freshman Rep. Mike Bishop. She’s already made TPP a factor, hitting him for supporting fast-track and neglecting Michigan workers.

Bishop is still reviewing the text of the final agreement. “He’s going to be really talking to people out in the district and making an informed decision that’s the best choice for the district in the weeks to come,” Bishop campaign spokesman Stu Sandler told CQ Roll Call Friday.

Michigan’s 7th District: A slowing industrial economy has also taken its toll on the 7th District, which includes a tiny slice of Lansing.

In her quest to unseat four-term Rep. Tim Walberg in a Tilts Republican race, Democratic state Rep. Gretchen Driskell has attacked him for voting to fast-track the deal. Walberg has not said whether he’ll support final passage. A spokesman for his campaign said he’s still “listening to constituents to get their thoughts.”

Ford Motor Company, a Michigan-based company, announced Thursday that the deal didn’t contain adequate protections against currency manipulation — a critique Driskell seized on later that day.

“Unfortunately, Congressman Walberg refuses to stand with Ford and other American manufacturers on this,” she said in a release.


Little-Understood Export-Import Bank Becomes Politically Significant

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