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McCain’s tough message for Ohio

Times Staff Writer

When John McCain went to Michigan on the eve of its January primary and told voters that the state’s lost jobs were not coming back, many political experts thought he had made a huge mistake. Particularly after he was trounced by Mitt Romney, who pledged to rebuild the state’s auto industry.

But McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee for president, delivered a similar economic message again to voters Tuesday in struggling Youngstown. And he praised the North American Free Trade Agreement, in an area where it is enormously unpopular.

“This is a tough place,” McCain said, standing, with his blue shirt-sleeves rolled up, by a closed metal-fabricating plant. “The answer to our problems is not the siren song of protectionism. Protectionism and isolationism has never worked.”

McCain, while cautioning Ohioans, also was firing a barb at his Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, who were battling for votes in Tuesday’s primary in neighboring Pennsylvania.

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Obama and Clinton say they want to renegotiate NAFTA to set stricter labor and environmental standards for trading partners, a change they contend will increase U.S. competitiveness. Clinton also has called for a moratorium on trade pacts until a new trade policy is set.

The keen interest in Ohio over trade was evident during McCain’s town hall-style event later in the day at Youngstown State University. Sam Carbon, a 29-year-old student, asked McCain how he would stop “the cheap dumping of foreign goods” into the U.S. market and prevent companies from leaving places such as Youngstown and taking jobs overseas.

“I’ve got to give you some straight talk: I can’t turn that around,” McCain said. “I can’t look you in the eye and tell you I believe those jobs are coming back. But I can tell you that I will commit myself to providing these workers who have lost their jobs with another chance, a second chance. They need it; they deserve it.”

McCain highlighted one of his remedies: expanding job-training programs at community colleges. He said he could pay for that by consolidating existing federal job-training efforts that he considered ineffective.

The senator from Arizona also promised to crack down on trade violations. “I will renew and redouble my efforts to make sure that that level playing field is even,” he said.

Carbon said he intended to vote for McCain because he disagreed with many of Obama and Clinton’s proposals, but the university student added that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with McCain’s answer.

“I would like to see NAFTA done away with, because that’s another reason the jobs in this country . . . are gone,” Carbon said. “He said he would work on it -- but the question is what his definition of ‘working on it’ is.”

While touring Ohio, McCain turned aside reporters’ questions about whom he favored in the Pennsylvania Democratic race, and denied a suggestion that he was secretly rooting for Clinton because her victory could lengthen the contest.

“I have stayed absolutely neutral. I have never stated whether I wanted this election to stretch out or not -- that’s up to the Democratic Party voters, and I have nothing to do with it,” McCain said.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Calendar

Upcoming Democratic primaries and caucuses

*--* -- -- -- Pledged -- -- -- delegates May -- Primary/Caucuses at stake 3 Guam C 4 6 Indiana P 72 -- North Carolina P 115 13 Nebraska P * -- West Virginia P 28 20 Kentucky P 51 -- Oregon P 52 June 1 Puerto Rico C 55 3 Montana P 16 -- South Dakota P 15 *--*

Aug. 25-28

Democratic National Convention in Denver

Sept. 1-4

Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.

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*Nebraska’s 24 Democratic delegates were chosen at Feb. 9 caucuses.

Sources: National Assn. of Secretaries of State; Republican National Committee, Democratic National Committee, thegreenpapers.com; state government information.


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