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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 04:47 GMT
Analysis: Politics of steel
US steelworker demonstrates outside the White House
Jobs and votes - inextricably linked
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By Michael Buchanan
BBC Washington correspondent
line
The 2000 Presidential election in the United States is full of what ifs.

What if the recounts hadn't been stopped by the Supreme Court? What if that chad machine in Florida had been working properly?

Many bar-room philosophers, mostly of a Democratic persuasion it is true to say, have chewed over these questions since George W Bush was finally declared the winner.


In part he [Mr Bush] is looking out for American jobs but he's also considering his own

Stuart Rothenburg
Political analyst
But it is worth considering another what if in light of the decision by President Bush to impose trade tariffs on most imports of steel.

What if Al Gore had promised to impose the barriers in the election, and stand up for steel, as campaigners put it?

He might well have been in the Oval Office today. At least that is what they say in the steel towns of West Virginia.

The state has two Democratic senators; one, Robert Byrd, has served West Virginians since 1958.

They should have been able to swing the Presidential vote for the Democratic candidate.

Political risks

But the state's five electoral college votes went instead to George Bush - by coincidence the former Texas governor's exact margin of victory nationally, in no small degree because he promised to look into the steel workers' concerns.

President Bush
Bush knows saving jobs in the Rust Belt has political implications
It is these sorts of political calculations that played as much a part in the Bush administration's decision to impose the tariffs as any pressure to protect American jobs.

This is an election year, and the thousands of steel workers who gathered in Washington last week to demand the tariffs made it clear they would remember the President's decision when they walked into the voting booths.

Both Houses of Congress are up for grabs in November's elections and anything that can be used to gain either party any extra leverage has to be used to maximum effect.

Shoulder to shoulder

But according to political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, Mr Bush was looking even further ahead than November, to his own next campaign in 2004.

"Politicians are always thinking about the next race they have to run," Mr Rothenberg told the BBC. "In part he (Mr Bush) is looking out for American jobs but he's also considering his own job."

That will entail the president reaching out not only to those states in what is known as America's Rust Belt that he won, such as West Virginia and Ohio, but also trying to snatch other states that he lost narrowly such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with communities dependent on steel should therefore aid Mr Bush, and help him sleep more easily as he becomes, once again, the focus of international condemnation.

See also:

06 Mar 02 | Business
Steel producers attack US tariffs
01 Mar 02 | Business
US steel workers stage mass protest
07 Jun 01 | Business
Slowdown fuels US steel aid
27 Dec 00 | Business
EU-US trade dispute looms
05 Jun 01 | Business
Bush seeks steel probe
06 Jun 01 | Business
EU opens attack on US steel probe
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