Originally created 05/05/04

Billboard ads target key issue



AIKEN - At the same time the Republican primary battle for U.S. Senate is heating up over free trade and the loss of American jobs, a manufacturing lobbying group has resumed a billboard campaign hammering at the same issue.

The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition will underscore the link between trade agreements and job losses until the November election, spokesman Lloyd Wood said Tuesday. It has more than doubled the number of South Carolina roadside ads to 23, including a billboard on Interstate 20 a few miles west of North Augusta. The signs feature an American flag and a black-lettered message: "Lost Your Job To 'Free Trade' & Offshoring Yet?"

The last word of the ad is underlined, capitalizing on Americans' uneasiness about job security - particularly in South Carolina, which has lost 69,700 manufacturing jobs since January 1999.

"This is the key economic issue of the campaign," Mr. Wood said. "We're not here to endorse any candidate, but we are trying to put information out there so voters can make an informed decision."

The coalition put up nine billboards during two months. Most of them were placed near Upstate cities such as Spartanburg and Greenville, the home base of Republican senatorial candidate Jim DeMint.

The new billboards are concentrated in the Upstate; only five are posted in the Midlands or Lowcountry.

In the past two weeks, former Attorney General Charlie Condon has launched a TV campaign contending that Mr. DeMint's 2000 vote in support of permanent normal trade relations with China does not "hold China accountable in the war on terror." Mr. DeMint's campaign called the ad "irresponsible and untrue," noting that the late Strom Thurmond also backed a bill focused on trade, not terrorism.

In turn, Mr. DeMint has accused the front-runner, former Gov. David Beasley, of flip-flopping on free trade, supporting the issue as governor but taking a more protectionist stance in his bid to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings.

Mr. Beasley and another Republican candidate, Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, have expressed support for the coalition's textile platform that calls for a moratorium on future trade deals that cost U.S. manufacturing jobs and action against unfair trade practices. Mr. Beasley is enjoying the support of textile magnate Roger Milliken, who bitterly abandoned Mr. DeMint after his free-trade votes.

The leading Democratic candidate, Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, has also expressed support for a trade-pact moratorium. Mrs. Tenenbaum has the endorsement of another textile executive, Roger Chastain, the president of Mount Vernon Mills.

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395 or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.