Wednesday, April 23, 2008

McCain picks failing Ohio factory to laud free trade

Go to McClatchy Newspapers original
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Standing before a nearly shuttered factory pocked with broken windows in a city devastated by the erosion of its industrial base, John McCain on Tuesday urged Americans to reject the "siren song of protectionism" and embrace free trade.

He used his own recent political fortunes — a dramatic fade followed by an unexpected comeback to secure the Republican presidential nomination — to illustrate that depressed Rust Belt cities such as Youngstown can rebound.

"A person learns along the way that if you hold on — if you don't quit no matter what the odds — sometimes life will surprise you," McCain said in a speech at Youngstown State University after meeting the five remaining workers at Fabart, a steel-fabricating factory that had more than 100 employees a few years ago.

Continuing a weeklong tour of what he calls the "forgotten America," McCain called for increased use of community colleges to retrain workers and investment in alternative energy technologies to replace the manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas, in part because free trade agreements made it easier for companies to move where production is cheaper.

"The American Midwest is more than a Rust Belt, and its economy is more than the sum of past hardships," McCain said, even as he acknowledged that a comeback "won't be easy."

The hardships are all too real in Youngstown. The city has lost more than 40,000 jobs since its signature steel industry collapsed in the 1970s and '80s. Its population is less than half its peak of 170,000 in the 1950s. About 25 percent of those who remain live below the poverty line.

To preach the virtues of free trade in such a place is risky even for a candidate who prides himself on "straight talk."

McCain lost the Michigan Republican primary in part because he told workers there that their "jobs aren't coming back," a claim then mocked by the victor, Mitt Romney.


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