Trade takes center stage in Dem race

Trade takes center stage in Dem race
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The next round of presidential primary contests is testing the potency of anti-trade sentiment among voters, with labor unions vowing to keep President Obama’s trade agenda front and center. 

Global trade is looming large as Democratic hopeful Bernie SandersBernie SandersHickenlooper day-old Senate bid faces pushback from progressives Steyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates Andrew Yang: News coverage of Trump a 'microcosm' of issues facing country MORE needs wins in a slew of union-heavy states with upcoming primaries: Washington, Hawaii, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, New Jersey and California.

Sanders produced a surprise victory in Michigan off his anti-trade rhetoric, going so far as to argue that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE’s trade stances led to sweeping job losses across the Great Lake State.

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Labor unions like the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has endorsed Sanders, say his trade strategy could pay dividends in the upcoming primary states, which boast the highest percentage of union members.

Chris Shelton, president of the CWA, said Sanders should do very well in those upcoming contests because his union members understand that these “secret trade agreements have led to a debilitating loss of jobs in the United States.”

“Our members know, by wide margins, that trade is bad,” Shelton told The Hill.

Shelton said the Sanders win in Michigan illustrates the high level of frustration among U.S. workers over trade. 

“We’re very glad that someone is bringing it up, because it’s killing the United States,” he said. 

Several exit polls in Michigan showed that a majority of voters believe past trade policies have caused U.S job losses.

“Sanders won the votes of a majority of those who agreed with that view,” Shelton said. 

The eight upcoming states have 1,340 delegates at stake, and Sanders will need to make a strong showing in each to cut into Clinton’s lead. She leads Sanders among pledged delegates 1,147 to 830, according to The Associated Press. Her lead stretches to 1,614 to 856 when superdelegates are included, though superdelegates are free to switch sides up until the Democratic National Convention. 

With trade topping the national political agenda, Shelton said he expects Sanders to “win big” in New York. Sanders’s campaign has expressed optimism that they can battle back on the delegate front and that their candidate can win in states like Washington and California. 

Still, Clinton rebounded from her Michigan loss, sweeping the next five states — Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Florida and North Carolina — on March 15, a sign that Sanders’s anti-trade message might be losing steam. 

Sanders’s labor supporters, though, are confident his sharper anti-trade criticism will resonate with voters better than Clinton’s claims that she can protect workers from globalization’s side effects.

“If he does well in all those states like we think he’s going to do, it will give the election a whole different complexion,” Shelton said.

United Steelworkers, which hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate but opposes the TPP as negotiated, also expects trade to remain a significant issue through the second half of the primary season because “the anger is already there, and it’s simmering.”

“I think that it is a factor because union members are more likely to vote and they are more likely to vote in primaries,” a legislative representative with United Steelworkers told The Hill. 

The group said the labor movement is finally getting attention on an issue they have been complaining about for years with little effect. 

The steelworkers said the campaign is a chance to “air out their grievances,” and they see “an awakening on trade” in the race for the White House.

But it’s difficult to predict who will win the trade debate.  

A Gallup poll last month showed that 58 percent of Americans see foreign trade as an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports, while about 34 percent see such trade as a threat to the economy. 

After nearly a decade of skepticism on trade, Americans have viewed the issue positively since 2013. 

Exit polls in Ohio showed that Clinton won the anti-trade vote there, according to David Niven, an American politics professor at the University of Cincinnati.

She had a solid base in the state — beating President Obama there in 2008 — and was supported by Democratic Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBank watchdogs approve rule to loosen ban on risky Wall Street trades Dayton mayor assigned extra security following verbal spat with Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape MORE and Rep. Tim Ryan, who told voters on the trail they trust her on trade. 

“I do think there’s an Ohio lesson that applies across the country,” Nevin said. “She doesn’t need to crawl into the nitty-gritty of policy — it’s hard for her to fight even to a draw on that front.” 

“What Clinton does need to do is remind Democrats she’s on their side and surround herself with local validators that workers love.”

Trade’s prominence in the campaign is raising questions about whether Congress will even consider the TPP agreement before Obama leaves office. 

Republican opponents and labor unions remain steadfast in trying to kill the trade deal. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) has said it will come up at the earliest during the lame-duck session following the general election. 

Still, unions have waited a long time for trade to become a prominent election year issue and are working to keep it there. On the Republican side, front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE has also taken to hammering trade deals.

“I don’t believe Trump gives a wit about trade,” Shelton said, “but it’s a very good thing to get people riled up about.”