GOP weaves fight on textiles. In a pivotal state whose economy is battered by textile imports, Dole, Robertson favor restrictions, Bush and Kemp oppose them
An emotional local issue - hardship in South Carolina's textile industry - threatens to hurt George Bush in the pivotal ``Super Saturday'' primary here March 5. Vice-President Bush, hewing to White House policy, strongly opposes a bill that would halt the rapid growth of textile imports into the United States. But his stand could lose votes in textile-producing regions of the state.Skip to next paragraph
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A surge of imports has thrown 30,000 South Carolinians out of work in recent years and closed 92 textile and apparel plants since 1980. Robert Dole and Pat Robertson, both challenging Mr. Bush here, have pounced on the issue as a certain vote-getter.
The GOP candidates regard the South Carolina primary as a pivotal contest. The outcome may affect voting patterns across the South three days later, on Super Tuesday, when primaries will be held in 14 Southern and border states.
The candidates' fight over textiles is getting splashed all over the front pages in Columbia, Greenville, and other cities in this state. It confirms an axiom of American elections - that ``all politics is local'' - even at the presidential level.
In Iowa last month, it was agricultural problems that got top billing. Pierre (Pete) du Pont IV, who wanted to slash farm subsidies, was plowed under. In New Hampshire, it was the Seabrook nuclear power plant issue that made Michael Dukakis a local hero - he opposed the plant - and helped him roll up a big margin.
The textile issue, however, has major national and international implications.
Bush argues that clamping down on textile imports could bring retaliation by other nations against a wide range of American industries.
But at a nationally televised debate in Atlanta Sunday, Senator Dole retorted:
``Every time I hear this word retaliation ... I'm reminded that Japan and South Korea and Taiwan already block Florida oranges and Georgia peaches and Alabama melons.
``In fact, an Alabama watermelon would cost you about $55 in Tokyo. You can't even ship certain rice into Japan unless it's in 25-pound gift bags,'' Dole said.
``Let's be sensible, realistic,'' he added. ``We're talking about American jobs. We're not talking about protectionism.''
Dole noted that foreign countries already control 54 percent of the US apparel market.
The proposal supported by Dole and Mr. Robertson would limit the increase of imports to 1 percent a year. Supporters contend that tough action is essential to preserve not only the textile industry, but also America's manufacturing base against low-cost imports.
Jack Kemp, the other major GOP candidate in South Carolina, rejects such concerns, however. During an interview here, he noted that a number of the nations that export textiles and apparel are struggling democracies with deep economic problems. Some of them, such as the Philippines, are also battling communist insurgencies.
During the Atlanta debate, Mr. Kemp asked: ``How are you going to create freedom in Latin America if you turn your back on the trade that they need to bring prosperity?''