- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

With his impressive and surprising last-minute surge in the Wisconsin primary, John Edwards, the increasingly populist and protectionist senator from North Carolina, may finally get the two-man contest he has been seeking. Capitalizing on the concern generated by the nearly 100,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Wisconsin over the past three years, Mr. Edwards finished a close second to Democratic front-runner John Kerry.

In recent weeks, Mr. Edwards has repeatedly hammered Mr. Kerry for his 1993 vote in support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Indeed, on the night of Mr. Edwards’ only primary victory — South Carolina, whose textile industry has been decimated by low-cost imports — Mr. Edwards told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about his two major “policy differences” with Mr. Kerry. “I opposed NAFTA. I have opposed a number of trade agreements. Senator Kerry has taken different positions on that issue,” he said.

One very important trade issue on which Mr. Edwards agreed with Mr. Kerry was the establishment of permanent normal trading relations with China — though one would never know it from Mr. Edwards’ recent plunge into unmitigated protectionism. Compared to the $41 billion balance-of-goods trade deficit in 2003 with NAFTA signatory Mexico, the U.S. trade deficit with China was $124 billion, more than three times the deficit with Mexico. Moreover, China provides far more manufactured goods to America’s consumers than Mexico does, especially the textiles that have so decimated the mill towns of Mr. Edwards’ beloved Carolinas.

Mr. Edwards told Mr. Matthews that his other major policy difference with Mr. Kerry was Mr. Edwards’ refusal to accept contributions from lobbyists. Mr. Matthews countered: “But when you take money from lawyers who do legislative work in Washington, they are, in fact, in most cases, if not in all cases, compensated for their contributions by their clients. Isn’t that just a pass through that cleans up or launders money that’s really from special interests?” Feigning confusion, the aw-shucks former personal-injury-attorney-turned-populist, who won more than $150 million in jury verdicts from insurance companies and other corporate adversaries, replied: “Boy, that was way too complicated for me.”

“Let me explain. It’s called bundling, Senator,” Mr. Matthews replied. “You get bundles of $2,000 maximum contributions from individuals. Those individuals are lawyers working in firms. The managing partner in a firm bundles together a lot of $2,000 maximum gifts.” To which Mr. Edwards replied, “All I have done is draw some voluntary lines that I think are important.” Yet, unlike every other major presidential candidate, including President Bush, whose campaign Web site lists the names of his bundlers, Mr. Edwards refuses to make such information available. While the bundlers remain anonymous, however, the Center for Responsive Politics has determined that lawyers alone have contributed more than $8 million, or two-thirds, of the $11.9 million in contributions to Mr. Edwards from individuals whose occupation could be identified.

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