"I will say we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate," said Clinton.
Obama concurred: "We should use the hammer of a potential opt-out."
But as Michael Luo points out today in The New York Times, despite the harsh rhetoric, the candidates have staked out nuanced positions on NAFTA. Luo quotes David Gergen, an adivser to President Bill Clinton as saying that Senator Clinton was "extremely enthusiastic" about the trade agreement while it was being crafted. As recently as 2004, she claimed that NAFTA had been "good for New York and good for America."
Obama, for his part, while consistently hammering NAFTA, has not differed from Senator Clinton at all when voting in the Senate on trade issues. As Eduardo Porter notes in his article, "Nafta Is a Sweet Deal, So Why Are They So Sour?," the real benefits from a dismantling of the agreement would accrue to powerful industrial and agricultural special interests "who survive behind protective barriers." Specifically, American Big Sugar and Mexican corn farmers.
So why are Clinton and Obama itching to prove just how much more opposed to NAFTA they are then the other guy?
It's Ohio, stupid. The hotly contested state has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the last five years.
In Ohio, which has lost nearly 225,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001, NAFTA is an easy target. For many working-class Ohioans – and the voters Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton hope to win in Tuesday's critical primary – it stands as a symbol for much that troubles their state. Against that backdrop, say experts, it's not surprising it's become a political piñata.