U.S. campaign taps fears about job outsourcing

Wed Oct 13, 2010 2:41pm EDT

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* Outsourcing issue resonates loudly in hard-hit Ohio

* Campaign ads target shift of U.S. jobs to China, India

* Voters see job creation as Congress' biggest job in 2011

By John Whitesides

LORAIN, Ohio, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Hoping to tap into deep voter anxiety about unemployment and the stumbling economy, candidates in both parties have launched a wave of new attacks accusing their rivals of helping ship U.S. jobs overseas.

On the campaign trail and in television ads ahead of Nov. 2 elections, dozens of Democrats have charged that Republicans support free-trade deals and tax breaks for corporations that cleared the way for the migration of U.S. jobs to foreign countries.

Republicans have countered with ads in 10 House of Representatives districts accusing Democrats of sponsoring jobs overseas by backing tax breaks for clean energy that mostly went to foreign companies in the $814 billion stimulus bill.

The raging ad war reflects the high stakes for both parties in a campaign dominated by the high unemployment rate. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found voters believe the shift of U.S. jobs to foreign countries was the biggest reason the economy has struggled. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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It is a topic that resonates loudly in economically ravaged battleground states like Ohio, where unemployment exceeds the national average and ailing towns like Lorain have seen thousands of manufacturing jobs disappear.

"This is the big issue here," said Anthony Giardini, head of the Lorain Democratic Party and a lawyer who has represented companies and unions on both sides of the outsourcing battle.

Lorain County has suffered a series of major plant closures and cutbacks in recent years, with manufacturing jobs heading overseas and others moving to non-union areas while some companies shut down under pressure from foreign competition.

"We've lost a lot of our heavy industry," Giardini said. "Many of those jobs aren't coming back. All we want is as close to a level playing field as we can get and right now we can't get it."

In a nearly deserted shopping mall amid the empty lots and vacant storefronts of Lorain, voters said they worried the United States was falling behind economic rivals like China and India.

"The jobs are gone, the factories are closed. It's sad," said Jennifer Trimmel, an unemployed nurse from nearby Elyria. "People can't afford to buy the products that are made here so now we have to buy products that are made somewhere else."

RISING THREAT

The outsourcing issue could be a difference-maker in Ohio -- home to a half-dozen competitive House contests, a Senate race and a tight governor's election -- and other recession-weary states as Republicans fight to regain control of Congress.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Wednesday found voters think job creation will be the biggest task for Congress in 2011, and more than half believe a reduction in the national unemployment rate of 9.6 percent would be the best sign the economy is improving.

Television ads in dozens of campaigns from California to Pennsylvania have focused on outsourcing, with images of foreign workers illustrating the threat from rising economies like China.

"Sharron Angle -- a foreign worker's best friend," declared the narrator of an ad for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The ad said Angle, a Republican Tea Party favorite, supported tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer has attacked Republican rival Carly Fiorina for laying off employees and outsourcing thousands of jobs when she was the boss at Hewlett-Packard.

Fiorina, who called Boxer a hypocrite, challenged her to return any campaign contributions she has received from businesses that outsourced jobs.

Democrats have pressed the attack on outsourcing since last spring, when Mark Critz used the issue to help win a special House election in Pennsylvania.

Senate Democratic campaign committee spokeswoman Deirdre Murphy said Republicans "cannot be trusted to protect American jobs when they support policies that ship American jobs overseas or have a record of shipping jobs overseas themselves."

House Republicans have responded to the Democratic attacks with their own series of ads focusing on Democratic support for the economic stimulus bill, which they said included tax breaks for clean energy that mostly created foreign jobs.

"Jobs in China, not North Carolina," said an ad attacking Democratic Representative Mike McIntyre, complete with images of Tiananmen Square.

Republicans point to reports as much as 80 percent of the grants for renewable energy programs in the stimulus bill went to foreign companies with workers in China and South Korea.

"After months of falsely accusing Republicans of outsourcing, Democrats are clearly upset to discover that they are the only ones guilty of such a charge," Republican House campaign committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said.

OHIO FLASHPOINT

Ohio Democratic Governor Ted Strickland is seeking re-election and he and his Republican challenger, John Kasich, have battled fiercely over jobs and outsourcing. Strickland supporters greet Kasich at campaign rallies with signs reading "Kasich = Outsourcer."

Strickland aired an ad accusing Kasich of signing off on moving Ohio jobs overseas as a board member of Elyria-based medical equipment maker Invacare Corp. The ad, which featured a Lorain woman whose husband was laid off, drew criticism from the company and local business leaders.

Kasich's campaign called the ad "a cheap shot." Invacare said the move had bolstered its bottom line enough that it could ultimately hire more Ohio workers.

Democratic U.S. Representative Betty Sutton, who represents the Lorain area, was backed by an ad from the National Education Association accusing Republican challenger Tom Ganley of supporting outsourcing by signing an anti-tax pledge on corporations.

Ganley, a car dealer who poured millions of his own money into the race, called the attack "a bald-faced lie" and said Sutton had proved in Congress she had no idea how to create jobs.

Sutton, however, appears to be in good shape in her Democratic-leaning district. Ganley, who has denied a sexual harassment claim against him, has canceled his planned broadcast ads to focus on less expensive cable ads.

Many voters in the Democratic stronghold of Lorain said they were not sure either party had a solution for the region's dwindling job base.

Carla Ball, a restaurant worker whose unemployed husband has been working temporary jobs, said she did not blame President Barack Obama for the ailing economy but worried about the future for her four kids.

"What's it going to be like for them in a few years?" she said. "We live paycheck to paycheck now. The frustrating thing is that nothing seems to happen very fast." (Editing by Bill Trott)

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