Fair-Trade Leaders, Victorious Candidates Say, "Trade Issue Played Historic Nationwide Role in Congressional, Presidential Races

Fair-Traders Still Gaining Seats Held by Supporters of NAFTA-WTO Status Quo, 43 Vocal Fair Traders Win in Races Using 137+ Trade TV Ads

Nov. 5, 2008 — For Immediate Release:
Contact: Ann Eveleth (202) 454-5108
Bill Holland (202) 454-5190

WASHINGTON, D.C. - From the presidency to both chambers of Congress and from traditionally "free trade" Oregon and Florida to Colorado and New Mexico, successful candidates in 2008 election races ran on a platform of fundamental overhaul of U.S. trade and globalization policies including a growing number of Republicans, with a net increase in Congress of 35 fair trade supporters, according to the new report Fair Trade Gets an Upgrade by Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division.

"The election results demonstrated Americans continued rejection of NAFTA style trade agreements," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "Ohioans figured out a long time ago that weak environmental and safety laws abroad allow toxic food, toxic trade and contaminated vitamins into their homes and as a result across the country we saw candidates who supported President Bush's trade agreements lose their races."

"An overwhelming majority of the public understands that unregulated global trade combined with unregulated financial and employment markets has created an economic catastrophe for workers," said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW). "Our members are committed to working with Senator Brown and other fair trade leaders in the House and Senate to fight to put workers first in a new trade regime."

A total of 36 new fair-traders won seats in the House of Representatives, which represents a net change of 28. Seven new fair-trade supporters won Senate seats, a net change of seven. The report includes trade positions for candidates in over 131 competitive or open seat races. Public Citizen found that in 2008, campaigning on fair trade was not solely a Democratic tactic. More than a dozen incumbent and open-seat fair-trade Republicans beat back tough primary and general election challenges by campaigning on a fair-trade platform, including with paid ads. In a dozen competitive and open seat races, both the Republican and the Democrat competed in an "anti-NAFTA off," battling to be the most critical of the status-quo trade model.

"The 2008 election was a veritable tipping point for fair-trade issues, which just reinforces what polls have increasingly shown: The public has had it with the current race-to-the-bottom trade and globalization model, and they voted against those who support it and for those who say they will replace it," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division. "Public expectations after this trade-focused election create pressure to fix the existing trade agreements and policies while further marginalizing various Bush hangover proposals, such as an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to Colombia, a bilateral investment treaty with China, and more financial service liberalization through the Korea Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round."

"Tuesday's electoral gains for fair-traders mark the second phase (following a 37-seat net gain by fair-traders in 2006) of an unprecedented shift in the U.S. political landscape away from the disastrous trade and globalization policies of the past," said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch division. "The American public expects a serious debate around replacing the current model."

In addition to the seats won by first-time candidates running on fair-trade platforms, 15 of the most consistently fair-trade incumbents facing tough re-election battles prevailed. The 15 incumbents with tough races voted the fair-trade position 100 percent of the time, cosponsored the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act, or did both. They come from the Republican and Democratic Parties, from the New Democrat and Blue Dog Coalitions, from the Hispanic and Progressive Caucuses and from California to Connecticut, from Mississippi to Minnesota. The TRADE Act lays out a process to review existing pacts, renegotiate them to meet basic criteria and reform negotiating processes and substantive policies to ensure a new model of globalization and trade that can benefit more people.

More than 137 paid television ads calling for new trade policies and attacking supporters of trade pacts such as NAFTA and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) were used by House and Senate candidates in 2008. This compares to roughly 25 ads in congressional races in 2006, when criticism of status-quo globalization and trade policy showed an exponential jump from all past election cycles. President-elect Barack Obama ran a dozen trade ads, nearly all during the general election.

The trade issue proved to be so powerful that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) ran 29 ads on the issue in support of candidates in 17 states. Indeed, the DCCC ran trade ads in races featuring Democrats who themselves did not focus on the issue using trade attack ads against Republicans in races where the Democrat had an anti-fair trade voting record.

Races won on fair-trade platforms spanned coast to coast - and far beyond the traditional manufacturing states:

  • In Oregon, Democrat Jeff Merkley shattered the conventional political wisdom by running and winning as a fair trader in the Pacific Northwest. The failure of the current trade and globalization policies was a top focus of his campaign which ran seven paid trade ads to defeat 100% anti-fair trader GOP incumbent Gordon Smith.
  • The two representatives - Reps. Phil English (R-Pa.) and Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) - who provided the two final votes passing the controversial Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) - were defeated in campaigns that focused on their trade betrayals. Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper beat English, a senior House Ways and Means Committee member and frequent practitioner of "bait-and-switch" tactics on trade who voted against CAFTA twice in committee, but supported it on the floor. Former textile worker Larry Kissell, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Hayes, who had committed to oppose both CAFTA and Fast Track in 2001 but instead became the passing vote in favor of each. According to Representative-Elect Kissell, "We have not seen the benefits of free trade in my district. Until we start to see jobs in our district I believe we need a timeout from free trade deals."
  • Fair trader Mark Schauer (D-Mich.) beat out 100 percent anti-fair trader Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), who had been supported in the past by the anti-fair trade Club for Growth. Schauer ran multiple paid ads attacking Walberg's trade voting record and the Club endorsement. According to Representative-Elect Schauer, "We've been swimming against the tide of unfair trade policies in Michigan. Fair trade was a cornerstone of my campaign against Tim Wahlberg who supported 100% of President Bush's free trade policies."

The report also reviews the extended national "anti-NAFTA-off" that consumed the Democratic presidential primaries, with Obama and Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) competing over who was most critical of the pact pushed by Democrat Bill Clinton. Primary candidates provided written commitments on an array of trade and globalization reform issues that have never been part of past presidential race. Obama's primary campaign trade-reform commitments became part of the Democratic platform, which also presented a trade-reform agenda not seen in the past. For example, the platform states that no future bilateral trade pacts "will stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications."

"The challenge facing the newly elected and the re-elected is to translate electoral messaging into policy change," Wallach said. "To succeed on the middle-class economic-security, health care, energy and climate-reform agenda that gained American voters' support requires significant changes to the status-quo model of globalization and the 'trade' agreements now implementing it ? if only to retake the non-trade policy space that is currently invaded by these instruments."

The report also summarizes public polling that documented a growing ? and bipartisan ? demand for changing the current trade model. Nearly three-quarters of Americans believe that a "free trade agreement" has had a negative effect on their families. Majorities oppose NAFTA across every demographic with Catholic, swing, independent and Hispanics voters among the most anti-NAFTA blocs. GOP voters, by a two-to-one majority, agree that "[f]oreign trade has been bad for the U.S. economy, because imports from abroad have reduced demand for American-made goods, cost jobs here at home, and produced potentially unsafe products."

"The salience of trade reform in the U.S. election parallels growing demand worldwide for reform of the current international economic architecture comprised by institutions such as the WTO," Tucker said. "With global financial, food-price and climate crises dominating the news and bringing the downsides of this globalization model into everyone's homes, U.S. candidates calling for new approaches found a ready audience."

Even before the powerful indictment of the current globalization system landed by the economic crisis, U.S. public support for the NAFTA-WTO model had waned as U.S. real wages flattened, millions of manufacturing jobs and increasingly professional and high-end service sector jobs were offshored, and unsafe imported food and consumer products flooded into the United States since the controversial pacts were implemented.

Final Findings

New Fair-Trade Congresspeople: 43, a net gain of 35

New Senate Fair Traders: 7, a net gain of 7
Senate races where fair traders beat anti-fair trader incumbents: 5
Senate races where fair traders took open seats vacated by retiring anti-fair traders: 2

New House Fair Traders: 36, a net gain of 28
House races where fair traders beat anti-fair trader incumbents: 13, net gain of 12
House races where fair traders took open seats: 20, net gain of 14
House special-election victors earlier in 2008 where fair trader replaced anti-fair trader: 3, net gain of 2

Races we monitored: 131+
Races where GOP ran on fair trade: 18+
Races where both GOP and Dem ran on fair trade: 14+
Paid ads on trade: 137+
House anti-fair traders that won higher office: 0
House fair traders that won higher office: 2

To read highlights of fair-trade wins and anti-fair-trade losses, an appendix of detailed candidate positions on trade in all tracked races, and to see the 137-plus 2008 campaign TV ads on trade, go to https://www.citizen.org/trade/politics/2008. To read Public Citizen's full election report, which includes analysis of 131 races, go to https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/ElectionReportFINAL.pdf (PDF).


Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.