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Obama surrogates hit McCain on trade

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
On a day when McCain is speaking in Canada, a partner in the North American Free Trade agreement, Obama surrogates held a conference call to bash the Arizona senator on his record on trade, saying he would continue George Bush's "failed trade policies" that have hurt America's industrial heartland.

On the call were Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Ohio and Michigan are key battleground states that Obama is fighting to win in November and they are also states that have faced particular economic hardship, with numerous jobs lost, many of them as companies shipped them overseas.

The call coincided with the end Obama's two-week economic tour during which he delivered policy speeches and held roundtables on an issue that is at the top of voters minds this election year.

Brown talked about the job losses faced in Ohio, some 200,000 lost manufacturing jobs since Bush took office.

"Today, at one o'clock, McCain is in Ottawa, Canada, talking about trade," Brown said. "He should come to Ottawa, Ohio, which is a community in northwest Ohio which just about, around four-and-a-half years ago lost a plant called Philips which makes television tubes and 1,100 people lost their jobs. Those 1,100 jobs were moved to Gomez Palacio, Mexico a direct outgrowth of bad trade policy," NAFTA and all that came after it.

Brown said McCain cared more about free trade than fair trade and would support free trade "at any cost even if it costs us our jobs as it has so many Ohioans. There hasn't been a trade deal that John McCain hasn't liked" and said it was clear McCain would sign more trade agreements with almost any country.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm talked about the need for America to have an export market and not just an import market. She said job losses in Michigan had "been devastating since George Bush became president" putting the number lost at 400,000.

She said McCain should come to Michigan and meet with people who have lost their jobs due to deals like the South Korea Free Trade agreement -- which McCain supports and Obama opposes -- which she said failed to protect workers.

"What's amazing is that Sen. McCain, while acknowledging that these trade agreements have cost American jobs, he still believes that they have been successful. How out of touch can you be?" she asked.

Both Granholm and Strickland said McCain had not supported efforts to help American workers whose jobs were displaced by trade agreements, with Strickland listing instances when the Arizona senator voted against job re-training for displaced workers and against low-interest loans to help those workers.

The call participants were repeatedly asked about an interview Obama gave to Fortune Magazine in which he toned down his anti-NAFTA rhetoric and suggested he did not want to unilaterally reopen negotiations with our neighbors on the deal.

"The 'What if' question, 'If negotiations fall apart will the U.S. pull out.' That's just not gonna happen," Brown said. Barack is going to in good faith sit down with our two very close geographic and political allies, Mexico and Canada, sit down with them and reach an agreement on NAFTA that will improve the situation in our country principally but also in their countries so that trade works and trade can work for all countries if we do it right with the right rules and it's just to me it's just beyond the realm of any real possibility that people are gonna stop going to the table and one of the countries is going to withdraw from NAFTA."

Brown said withdrawal was a possibility but an unlikely one and that Obama would represent the country in a way that the agreement would be significantly improved.

The surrogates said trade deals with labor and environmental standards would help both American workers and foreign workers, using Mexico as an example of a place where such rules would raise living standards for Mexicans and expand the market for U.S. goods.