Free trade becoming major issue in Ohio Senate race

Free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have been a big talking point in the presidential election, but those deals could also play a major role in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio as well. (WSYX/WTTE)

Free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have been a big talking point in the presidential election, but those deals could also play a major role in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio as well.

NAFTA was passed in the 1990's. Its supporters thought it would increase trade between the U.S. and other North American countries. It has since fallen out of favor for many voters because some people think it outsources jobs.

Former Governor Ted Strickland and Senator Rob Portman are both running against free trade deals their parties used to support.

"Madam Chair, I rise today in support of NAFTA because it'll create jobs for Americans," said Portman on the House floor in November of 1993. "NAFTA represents hope, opportunity and economic growth and we need it."

Much has changed since 1993. Now, Portman has changed his tune on deals like that in his commercials.

"I'm fighting every day to level the playing field for Ohio workers, standing up to my own party on trade, and fighting back against China when they threaten Ohio jobs," Portman said in his latest commercial.

Portman endorsed Donald Trump for President. Trump has made renegotiating trade deals a cornerstone of his campaign. He called NAFTA a "disaster."

"You have elements in both the Democratic and the Republican Party that are against these kind of trade deals, whether it's the Bernie Sanders people on the Democrats' side or it's the Trump people on the Republican side," said Bob Clegg, a Republican strategist.

Portman used to be the U.S. trade representative for President George W. Bush. His campaign said he doesn't support free trade. He supports "fair trade".

"Starting with NAFTA, these unions were against these trade deals," Clegg said. "Democrats and Republicans have both voted for it because it's the best thing, but now these blue collar workers especially are saying, 'enough'."

Portman campaign spokesperon MIchawn Rich wrote the following state in response the Senator's position.

Rob and Donald Trump agree that we need to dramatically increase exports, crack down on unfair imports, and be tougher on China by holding them accountable when they cheat. Unlike Ted Strickland, Rob is the only candidate in this race with a proven record of being tough on China – even opposing his own party to stop China's currency manipulation and protecting Ohio jobs when China cheats. He is a leader when it comes to leveling the playing field on trade so Ohio workers can compete and win. While Rob will always defend Ohio workers, Ted Strickland's record doesn't match his rhetoric. In Congress, he refused to vote to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices. As governor, despite his strong rhetoric, Strickland's administration opened a trade office in China and he even gave a $4 million taxpayer-funded loan to a now-bankrupt company with a Chinese factory.
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