If organized labor does indeed start pushing for trade agreements that better protect workers' rights, as my fellow Facing South blogger R. Neal reports, it will likely find support from an electorate that's proven to be deeply concerned about fair-trade issues.
An analysis of the mid-term election results by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch found strong voter support for policies that offer an alternative to the current North American Free Trade Agreement model. Incumbents who had voted for what Public Citizen calls "the U.S. trade status quo of NAFTA, WTO and Fast Track" lost at least seven Senate and 27 House seats to proponents of fair trade.
A few of the races won by fair-trade challengers -- all Democrats -- were in the South: Jim Webb over Sen. George Allen in Virginia, Ron Klein over Rep. Clay Shaw in Florida's 22nd District, John Yarmuth over Rep. Anne Northrup in Kentucky's 3rd, and Heath Shuler over Rep. Charles Taylor in North Carolina's 11th. In North Carolina's 8th District, the race between Democratic challenger Larry Kissell and incumbent Republican Robin Hayes still has not been decided.
Meanwhile, of the 10 Congressional incumbents who voted for fair trade 100 percent of time, all were easily re-elected. There's one Southerner among their ranks: Rep. Walter Jones, an eastern North Carolina Republican who held his seat by a 38-point margin.
Public Citizen notes the important role played by election-focused fair-trade groups, which "helped translate popular discontent over failed trade policy into electoral gains." Among the groups active in the recent elections was the Citizens Trade Campaign, a grassroots fair-trade coalition that placed organizers in the campaigns of nearly a dozen pro-fair-trade candidates around the country to get out the fair-trade vote.
One of the districts in which CTC was active was North Carolina's 11th, where Taylor failed to vote on the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which then passed by one vote. CTC also worked in North Carolina's 8th, a textile region hit hard by NAFTA. There, incumbent Hayes -- a textile magnate -- earned the wrath of many constituents after his controversial last-minute decision to abandon his declared position and vote in favor of CAFTA. Another group that played a key role in the election of fair-trade advocates was Working Families Win, a project of Americans for Democratic Action.
The importance of the fair-trade issue in the mid-term could help shape the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, Public Citizen predicts:
One need look no further than the massively successful fair trade campaigns in key presidential states -- Florida (Tim Mahoney), Iowa (Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack), New Hampshire (Paul Hodes, Carol Porter Shea), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown, Ted Strickland) -- to understand that the electoral and political impact of trade is huge... and will have serious implications for both the 2008 presidential race and the future course of U.S. trade policy. Perhaps most interesting about the trade electoral trend beyond its national scope is that it busted the myth of the trade debate being divided into "pro-traders" and "protectionists." The candidates who ran and won on trade explicitly advocated for better trade policies and not against trade per se, but against the specific avoidable damage delivered by over a decade of the NAFTA-WTO model.