Duckworth goes on the attack over free trade

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[Greg Hinz| August 29, 2016 | Crain's]

Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Tammy Duckworth is doubling down on her opposition to current U.S. trade policies, saying too many Americans have been hurt by bad deals.

But incumbent Mark Kirk says she's guilty of "hypocrisy."

Duckworth's move comes in a new TV spot focused on downstate Granite City, where former steel mill workers have had a rough few years.

"The imports are really bad. China, Korea," say crusty workers. "It's junk steel."

A bit later, Duckworth, speaking in Granite City, talks about how her father was laid off in his 50s and had a hard time finding a new job.

"Mark Kirk described himself as an ardent free trader. And that's a fundamental difference between us," she says. "I am a fair trader."

Back to the crusty worker. "(Kirk's) not supposed to work for China. He's supposed to fight for our jobs."

Ouch! And with more than a little echo of the kind of thing one Donald Trump has been saying on the campaign trail.

In fact, Duckworth's stance on trade issues is somewhat more nuanced.

In a speech last week to the City Club, she came out against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal "as drafted." That implies she might change her mind—if, as she suggested in the speech, changes are made to get tougher on currency manipulation and enforce rules of origin on where a product really is produced.

In the speech, Duckworth said what's needed is more help for manufacturers, particularly small ones, including tax code simplification, a new break for investments, additional backing for wind-farm equipment and more spending on infrastructure.

She also noted that, unlike many Republicans, she voted to extend the life of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a key financing unit for many American firms that serve foreign markets.

But the latter point drew a rebuttal from Kirk.

"Duckworth's hypocrisy is swift and stunning," Kirk campaign manger Kevin Artl said in a statement, suggesting that it does little good to have an Ex-Im bank without policies that promote trade. "Illinois' 575,000 manufacturing jobs rely on trade, as does our entire agricultural economy, and they are counting on leadership and solutions, not just political doublespeak."

Sounds like there are some differences of opinion here.

Anyhow, look for more on this tomorrow, when Illinois Manufacturers' Association chief Greg Baise is due to give his own City Club speech on what's wrong with the state's factories and what needs to be done.

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