(Disclaimer: Public Citizen has no preference among candidates for office)
Yesterday Democrat Kathy Hochul pulled off an upset win against Republican Jane Corwin in the special election for New York's 26th District, wresting control of a seat the GOP has occupied since the 1960's. Much attention has focused on the candidates' positions on Medicare as a deciding factor in the race, but trade policy also played a key role in the election.
Jack Davis, independent candidate and president of a local manufacturing company, turned the spotlight on the devastating consequences of unfair trade policies for American manufacturing workers. His focus on offshoring garnered nine percent of the votes in the special election.
Earlier in the race, Davis was polling at 23 percent, a testament to the power of trade as an election issue. Eager to be on the right side of the trade issue, Kathy Hochul released a strongly-worded statement condemning NAFTA and opposing the Korea, Panama, and Colombia FTAs.
For her part, Corwin ran an ad claiming that she would "oppose trade agreements that just aren’t fair", but never followed through in naming a specific pact that she would oppose. When asked point-blank in a questionnaire if she supported NAFTA and the Korea, Panama, and Colombia FTAs, she refused to take a position. The tension between Corwin's vague fair trade statements and her reluctance to oppose specific policies came to a head when Hochul and Corwin addressed Davis' absence from the May 12th debate:
Oddly, Hochul and Corwin both ended up noting Davis’ absence from the debate not to needle him, but each other.
Hochul started it, saying she wished Davis had participated because “he brings a lot to the debate,” and on his behalf demanded Corwin state her view of the North American Free Trade Agreement and unfair trade. That’s been Davis’ signature issue in all four of his congressional campaigns.
Corwin’s answer: “Right back at’cha, Kathy. There are a lot of things that Jack could ask Kathy Hochul. I think we need to get clarification on her plan for Medicare. She talks about holding the line on taxes. How do you hold the line on taxes when you’re advocating ... to raise taxes?”
That exchange sharply contrasted the difference between Hochul's commitment to oppose specific trade agreements and Corwin's broad statements on fair trade. A large number of the new GOP House freshmen campaigned on supporting fair trade. With Hochul's solid win over Corwin, they're on notice that they will have to put their money where their mouths are on the upcoming votes on the Korea, Panama, and Colombia FTAs or face voter anger in November 2012.