By  on October 23, 2006

WASHINGTON - The fashion industry is keeping a close eye on two dozen tight Congressional races in an election year that has Democrats threatening to tip the balance of power in the House and Senate.

Several contests in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington and Connecticut have the attention of retailers and apparel manufacturers, while a few key races in the Carolinas and Georgia are being closely watched by the textile industry.

Ohio — home to industry heavyweights Federated Department Stores, Limited Brands Inc. and Procter & Gamble — is a key area of focus for executives and corporate and industry association political action committees. Retailers and apparel firms have concentrated their political contributions in Ohio this two-year election cycle as pro-business, pro-trade Republican incumbents find themselves in tight contests.

The impact of the Bush administration’s trade policies on U.S. manufacturing jobs, which have been in a long-term decline, and a lawmaker’s vote on trade deals is a significant factor in races around the country.

Rep. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) has mounted a formidable challenge on an antitrade platform against Sen. Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent. Brown, stressing Ohio has lost 195,000 manufacturing jobs since 2001, has run TV campaign ads condemning DeWine’s “yes” votes on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement and granting China permanent normal trade relations status.

J.C. Penney Co., Sears Holding Corp., Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Limited Brands, Gap Inc. and P&G, all proponents of free trade, have combined to give $34,000 to DeWine in the 2005-2006 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The fashion industry is also contributing heavily to Rep. Deborah Pryce’s campaign in Ohio. Pryce, first elected to the House in 1992, is part of the GOP leadership there, and is in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, a Franklin County commissioner.

For complete coverage, see tomorrow's issue of WWD.

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