KANNAPOLIS: Old Brick Textile Mill casts a shadow over the heated race for Congress in this once booming industrial enclave of North Carolina; Larry Kissell Democratic opponent said here on October 26.
The mill once made pillowcases. It was closed in part because of competition from imports.When Kannapolis lost a textile mill three years ago, nearly 5,000 people were put out of work.
As if by chance, though probably not, both candidates are linked to the old mill. Charles Cannon, legendary founder of the Cannon textile empire and grandfather of Representative Robin Hayes, the Republican incumbent, built it in the 1920’s, and Mr. Hayes worked summers there as a youth.
Larry Kissell, his Democratic opponent, worked there for 27 years before becoming a high school teacher in 2001, when, he says, he saw the handwriting on the wall about its future. Now his campaign is organized around the threat of foreign competition and Mr. Hayes’s tiebreaking vote last year for a trade accord with Central America.
The No. 1 issue voters care about this year is jobs; Mr. Kissell said as he campaigned door to door in a neighborhood near the rubble-strewn field where the Kannapolis mill once stood.
We have lost 10,000 jobs in the textile industry here in the last several years. Free trade has not been good for this district; Kissell said.
By most accounts, Mr. Kissell has an uphill battle in trying to unseat Mr. Hayes, who has withstood challenges on the trade issue in the past. In 2001, he was put on the defensive for casting another tiebreaking vote for a trade measure, after a last-minute reversal accompanied by his weeping on the House floor.
But Mr. Kissell is one of a dozen Democratic candidates for the House, and a few for the Senate, who are making at least some headway in tapping voter anxiety about trade.
In Ohio, Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican in a race against Representative Sherrod Brown, is being hammered for his support of trade bills. In upstate New York, Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign committee, faces stiff opposition over the same issue.
If many pro-trade Republicans lose on Election Day, President Bush, who has had trouble winning approval of trade deals in the past, could face even tougher odds.
If the Democrats do as well as it appears, you’re going to see more resistance to trade agreements; said Mickey Kantor, a top trade negotiator under President Bill Clinton, who corralled a hundred or so Democrats for the trade deals of the 1990’s.
By contrast, only a handful of Democrats voted for the deals negotiated by Mr. Bush, in an environment of Congressional economic populism that has led to other fights, including widespread criticism of China’s economic practices and broad opposition to foreign purchases of American companies.
Trade is not the only issue here in North Carolina’s Eighth Congressional District, which spreads across the piedmont in the center of the state and encompasses old and new high-tech industries, farms, the prosperous banking corridors of Charlotte and people who work at Fort Bragg, where support for the Iraq war and for Republicans remains high.
Even some Democrats concede that Mr. Hayes has done well for many of his constituents, especially farmers and the defense industry. He also points with pride to his efforts in getting state and county financing for Castle & Cooke and the Dole Food Company to build a corporate research center on the site of the razed Kannapolis mill.