John Edwards is preparing to mount an issue-based challenge to the John Kerry juggernaut. And the issue will be trade policy.
Edwards, the North Carolina senator who many Democrats now see as the last challenger with a chance to derail Kerry’s front-running campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, is already reaping the benefits of his “fair trade, not free trade” stance. On Saturday, in Milwaukee, he will receive a key labor endorsement from the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).
“UNITE members, like all working families, are struggling. George Bush has traded away 2.6 million manufacturing jobs, and put our economic stability, workplace standards and civil liberties at risk,” says UNITE President Bruce Raynor, who will join Edwards and a large contingent of the union’s more than 3,000 Wisconsin members for the announcement. “Our members are looking for bold new leadership to see us through these challenging times,” says Raynor. “Senator John Edwards provides that leadership.”
With an epic history that stretches back to the fights against sweatshops at the dawn of the past century, and with 500,000 active and retired members nationwide, UNITE has long been in the forefront of opposition to trade policies that undermine protections for workers, the environment and human rights. The endorsement from UNITE is the first Edwards has received from an international union, and he will use it to highlight the distinctions between his record of challenging free-trade pacts and Kerry’s record of support for those agreements.
Don’t expect Edwards to get particularly personal with Kerry; the North Carolinian is the “Mr. Congeniality” of this race. But Edwards will be more aggressive about highlighting positions on trade issues that differ from those taken by Kerry.
Edwards has pushed trade issues hard on the campaign trail in recent days, declaring in Tennessee on Thursday that, “It is wrong that our trade policies have caused one million good paying jobs to be shipped overseas because our companies can find cheaper labor and lower standards in another country…We cannot keep supporting trade deals if they are taking our jobs and our democratic way of life with them.”
It’s no coincidence that the announcement of the UNITE endorsement will come in Wisconsin, where the union has more than 3,000 members and thousands of retirees, and where the February 17 primary contest is shaping up as what could be the last chance to slow Kerry’s march to the nomination. With wins in the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and five caucuses and primaries on February 3, Kerry has emerged as the clear frontrunner.
Already, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has signaled that Wisconsin will be a make-or-break test for his battered candidacy. Edwards is not so blunt about the important of the Wisconsin primary, but his aides admit that he needs to win a northern state soon to remain viable.