Protectionist Candidates Firing Blanks So Far

The early returns are in on the Democratic tactic of making trade an issue in the 2010 campaign, and the results are not encouraging for those who want to blame trade agreements for the state of the economy.

In a column this morning for the Wall Street Journal (“Ohio’s Test of Protectionist Rage”), Gerald Seib reports from Ohio that two Republican candidates have been unscathed so far by Democratic attacks on their past support for major trade agreements.

In races for U.S. Senate and governor, Democrats have unleashed hard-hitting ads accusing their GOP opponents of supporting trade deals “that shipped tens of thousands of Ohio jobs overseas.” So far the attacks have failed to draw blood. According to Seib:

Right now, both Republican contenders in those races—Rob Portman for the Senate and John Kasich for governor—are coming under fire for their past support of free trade. The fact that both enjoy big poll leads right now suggests the attacks have had limited effect so far.

A key question in the campaign stretch run, both for Ohio and for policy making in Washington after the election, is whether that remains the case.

Blaming trade for Ohio’s economic woes is wrong on substance, as I noted in 2008 when the issue came up in the state’s Democratic presidential primary. Politically it has proven to be a non-factor. As keen as I am to promote free trade, I’ll admit that it is probably not a big vote-getter on Election Day, but neither is it a vote-loser.

Candidates who support our freedom to trade with the rest of the world should not abandon that sound position under the desperate fire of their opponents.