In N.H., Buchanan aims at economic insecurities Valentine's Day finds candidate in greenhouse

Campaign 1996

February 15, 1996|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DOVER, N.H. -- Patrick J. Buchanan celebrated Valentine's Day yesterday by enlisting Cupid in his "America First" fight against U.S. free-trade policies, with which he hopes to upset Sen. Bob Dole in the Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

As workers at a greenhouse here trimmed and packed American roses on one of the floral industry's busiest days of the year, Mr. Buchanan seized on the growing loss of the domestic rose market to Latin America to argue that free trade is sapping American industries and job security.

The greenhouse visit displayed his battle plan here: aggressively press the trade and job-security issues that worked for him in the Louisiana and Iowa caucuses, but this time focus on Mr. Dole, the man he says stands between him and the Republican nomination.

Zeroing in on Mr. Dole, Mr. Buchanan cited a deal in which U.S. tariffs on roses exported from Colombia were lifted in exchange for Colombian pledges to crack down on the cocaine trade into the United States. American rose growers, he said, "are the casualties of these trade policies that my friend -- excuse me, Senator Dole -- has supported again and again and again."

There was no immediate response from the Dole campaign.

The allegation was Mr. Buchanan's opening shot in a New Hampshire strategy to tap economic insecurity. The issue worked for him in 1992, when recession gripped New Hampshire. At the time, Mr. Buchanan won 37 percent of the primary vote against President George Bush. But since then, with a recovery taking place, unemployment has dropped sharply.

In finishing a strong second behind Mr. Dole in Monday's Iowa caucuses, Mr. Buchanan coupled the trade issue with a vehement anti-abortion stand. The question in New Hampshire is whether his argument that lower wages and other costs abroad are luring away U.S. plants at the expense of American workers will resonate in a state on an economic upswing.

Mr. Buchanan found an effective backdrop for his trade pitch. Barry Williams, the greenhouse owner, told Mr. Buchanan that 60 percent of the American rose market and 73 percent of the cut-flower market have been lost to Latin American countries.

Mark Yadon, the plant's chief rose grower, said lower wages abroad are not the only reason the domestic industry is hurting. Many strong and cost-effective insecticides, pesticides and herbicides barred by U.S. environmental regulations are used overseas, lowering production costs, he said, and raising health hazards to Americans consumers.

But now that the North American Free Trade Agreement has been implemented, Mr. Yadon asked, "What can Pat Buchanan do about it? Is it a realistic possibility that he can turn it around? I have my doubts." He said he was undecided about how to vote.

Mr. Buchanan made much after the Iowa vote of not having run negative advertising and of thus benefiting from a voter backlash against its use by other candidates. He pledged to wage a positive campaign again in New Hampshire. But he did his share of name-calling here in blaming Mr. Dole for trade policies that he said were undercutting the rose-growing business and other domestic industries.

The former news commentator argued that Americans' real wages have fallen "because of these trade deals that the senator himself has done, for the benefit of his corporate contributors." .. Mr. Dole, he charged, has long been "hauling water" for corporate interests.

Mr. Buchanan added: "Who is responsible for the trade deals that are sending those corporate profits up while they fire American workers? Senator Dole is." He called Mr. Dole "Mr. NAFTA, Mr. GATT and Mr. Mexican bailout."

Workers continued trimming and packing roses as Mr. Buchanan accused Mr. Dole of jeopardizing their jobs by having voted for free-trade policies. Most said they would vote for Mr. Buchanan or were thinking about doing so.

"I'm for keeping jobs in America," said Jeanne Benoit. "And if we have to pay taxes if we ship to other countries, they should have to do the same thing."

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