WASHINGTON — The Democratic field of candidates seeking their party’s nomination to challenge President Bush’s reelection bid faces its first test Monday with the Iowa caucuses, followed by the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary.

While former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has been the front-runner, the campaigns of retired Gen. Wesley Clark in New Hampshire and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in Iowa are posing serious challenges, and the other major candidates say they’re not giving up yet, as they court sizable numbers of undecided voters in both states.

After Iowa and New Hampshire, the campaigns of Democrats seen as minor candidates, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and the Rev. Al Sharpton, are expected to fade or fold. By the end of February and possibly as soon as the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary, a Democratic victor in the field could emerge, to be formally nominated at the party’s convention this summer. Whatever the outcome, the Democratic candidate will face a well-funded Bush campaign, which has so far raised $84.6 million or about half of what’s expected to fill the President’s election coffers.

From trade to taxes, the Democratic candidates are taking stands on issues touching the various sectors of the fashion industry. For retailers and other importers of textiles and apparel, some of the campaign promises might seem a bit scary, like Dean’s renegotiating NAFTA or Joseph Lieberman’s desire to seek sanctions against China for undervaluing its currency.

However, domestic textile and apparel producers, as well as the apparel union UNITE, which has yet to endorse a candidate in the Democratic field, can take solace in various campaign pledges on trade and plans to otherwise help boost the flagging manufacturing sector.

Here are the positions of the Democratic candidates on issues affecting the business of fashion.

HOWARD DEAN: Former Vermont Gov. Dean’s first-place ranking in Iowa is being nipped at closely by Gephardt and Kerry. In New Hampshire, Dean is counting on a victory unless second-place Clark or third-place Kerry surge ahead. Dean, who campaigns as a fiscal conservative but supports strong environmental laws and is a social liberal, is often cited as the likely Democratic nominee. Many service unions are backing him, as well as former Vice President Al Gore and other prominent party members. Dean is a practicing physician whose early and blunt criticism of the Bush presidency, particularly on the Iraq war, coupled with his campaign’s facile use of the Internet, garnered him early support and crucial campaign dollars. Dean entered politics in 1982 with his election to the Vermont House of Representatives and served three terms as lieutenant governor. He became governor in 1991 when the incumbent died. Dean remained governor until 2002.WAR CHEST: $25.4 million; spent $12.44 million.

POPULARITY: Iowa, 30 percent; N.H., 34 percent.

TRADE: Would revise all trade pacts to include strict labor, human rights and environmental standards. Although he supported NAFTA, he would renegotiate the pact to better reflect integration of U.S. and Mexico’s economies. Would use the Free Trade Area of Americas, already being negotiated but whose completion this year is in question, as a model for future trade pacts to include tougher labor and environmental standards.

ECONOMY: Would repeal Bush tax cuts to help pay for expanded health care, consider cutting taxes for the middle class and restore taxes on estates worth more than $5 million.

HEALTH CARE: Reform is the centerpiece of campaign. He would give tax credits to uninsured middle-income workers to buy coverage, and insurance subsidies for companies employing fewer than 50 people. Federal government would pay 70 percent of health costs for the unemployed and limit tax deductions for companies that don’t provide insurance.

IMMIGRATION: Supports allowing undocumented workers to seek legal status.

JOHN KERRY: In his third term as senator from Massachusetts, Kerry is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and is using his opposition to that war in his campaign to challenge the President’s handling of the war in Iraq. A moderate and backer of international trade agreements, Kerry’s second-place hold on Iowa has been usurped by Gephardt, but the senator is counting on a cadre of veterans to shore up his support in the state, as well as New Hampshire. Kerry’s first elected office was as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982. Two years later, he was first elected to the Senate.

WAR CHEST: $20 million; spent $12 million.

POPULARITY: Iowa, 18 percent; N.H., 11 percent.

TRADE: Supports trade agreements with labor and environmental standards but doesn’t expect foreign standards to equal U.S. standards. Voted for trade-expanding agreements in Senate, including NAFTA, and apparel duty-dropping legislation for Africa and the Caribbean Basin. Would order a 120-day review of existing trade pacts to measure whether trading partners are abiding by the agreements, including rules on labor and environment standards.ECONOMY: Would recast Bush tax cuts and distribute them among middle- and low-income individuals. Would create 3 million jobs in 500 days through federal spending on public works, energy and environmental cleanup programs, and would restore taxes on estates of $10 million or more.

HEALTH CARE: Catastrophic medical costs would be partially underwritten by government if employers and insurance companies that would benefit agree to limit premium increases. Calls for small business health care tax credits. Wants unemployed to be given 75 percent health care tax credit and to open federal employee insurance program to private citizens.

IMMIGRATION: Legal status for workers in the country for five years and no criminal past.

DICK GEPHARDT: With the backing of many industrial unions and years of campaign savvy, Gephardt is challenging Dean for a first-place showing in Iowa. A son of a milk-truck driver, Gephardt is campaigning as the blue-collar candidate critical of free-trade policies. In 1976, Gephardt was first elected to Congress from Missouri and in 1989 was elected by his colleagues as House majority leader, the second most powerful spot in the chamber. When the GOP wrestled control of the House in 1994, Gephardt assumed the position of minority leader, which he relinquished for his recent presidential bid. Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses in a 1989 presidential run, but his under-financed campaign later sputtered.

WAR CHEST: $13.7 million; spent $7.8 million.

POPULARITY: Iowa, 23 percent; N.H., 4 percent.

TRADE: Calls for trade pacts to include labor and environmental standards. Inequalities in these standards between the U.S. and Mexico spurred his lead opposition in the House against NAFTA and China’s most favored nation status. However, Gephardt voted for the creation of the World Trade Organization and he views international trade as essential to U.S. economy, but with stricter rules lessening comparative advantages on labor and environmental standards. Gephardt also supported legislation dropping duties on African- and Caribbean Basin-made apparel. He opposes the Central American Free Trade Agreement now before Congress. Would press World Trade Organization to create an international minimum wage.ECONOMY: He sees health care reform and creation of portable lifetime pension funds seen as leading economic growth. Would repeal Bush tax cuts and spend money on health care reform. Would restore estate taxes but at undecided level.

HEALTH CARE: Under his plan, companies would receive 60 percent tax credit for cost of employee health coverage. Unemployed would receive federal health care subsidies and federal subsidies for low-income children would be expanded.

IMMIGRATION: Wants legal status for undocumented workers that are in the country for at least five years, worked for at least two years and have no criminal record.

WESLEY CLARK: Despite his late entry in the race and slow fund-raising start, Clark is gaining some traction in the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary, where polls place him second to Dean. Clark isn’t actively campaigning in Iowa, but he’s looking to the third test in the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary to make a splash. This is Clark’s first run for political office and his military background as former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO is seen as one of his greatest strengths if he were to be matched against Bush, given the war in Iraq. Born in Chicago and raised in Arkansas, Clark graduated first in his class at West Point in 1966 and was a Rhodes Scholar. Clark recently ditched his blue blazer for a tie-and-argyle-sweater look, which like Madonna’s endorsement, was seen as trying to drum up more female support.

WAR CHEST: $3.5 million; spent $107,259.

POPULARITY: Iowa, 4 percent; N.H., 20 percent.

TRADE: Supports expanding international trade with agreements requiring labor and environmental standards when needed, but would set no expectation of raising standards equal to the U.S. Backs creating incentives to keep U.S. jobs from moving offshore.

ECONOMY: Says Bush administration only has a tax-cut policy, not an economic policy. Would increase corporate taxes by $300 billion and wants corporate tax credits of up to $5,000 per new worker hired. Wants to repeal Bush tax cuts for households with more than $200,000 annual income. Plan calls for families making under $50,000 to pay no federal income taxes.HEALTH CARE: Plan calls for citizens without employer-provided insurance to be able to pay to be covered by federal employee system to ensure competitive premiums. Wants to create 70 percent health care tax credit for unemployed and tax credits to subsidize health care for families of four earning up to $90,000 and individuals making up to $40,000.

IMMIGRATION: Favors temporary worker program for employers who can’t fill jobs with Americans.

JOHN EDWARDS: A first-term senator from North Carolina, Edwards chose to seek the presidency instead of reelection. A son of a former Milliken & Co. textile worker, he considers himself a populist candidate and has spent time in the textile-job-losing South blaming the Bush administration for the loss of almost 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs since the President took office. Before joining the Senate, Edwards was a personal injury lawyer. He isn’t expected to place in either Iowa or New Hampshire, but is hoping to win in the South Carolina primary, where he’s campaigning as a favorite son of the South. He opposes the Central American Free Trade Agreement now before Congress.

WAR CHEST: $14.5 million; spent $9 million.

POPULARITY: Iowa, 11 percent; N.H., 3 percent.

TRADE: Calls for trade agreements to contain labor and environmental standards. He has supported expanding international trade and voted to grant China most favored nation trading status in support of its gaining World Trade Organization membership. Voted against Trade & Development Act of 2000 that, among other things, dropped apparel tariffs on much African and Caribbean Basin apparel.

ECONOMY: Wants to give 10 percent tax cut to companies manufacturing in the U.S and create a fund to stimulate urban and rural businesses. Calls for repeal of Bush tax cuts for individuals making $240,000 or more and set top capital gains tax rate for individuals earning at least $400,000. Wants to restore taxes on estates of $7 million or more.

HEALTH CARE: Uninsured adults would receive government subsidies to pay for health care and families would receive tax breaks to help insure children. Would work to reduce health care costs, like doubling resources for clinics.IMMIGRATION: Supports allowing undocumented workers to seek legal status.

JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: A third-term U.S. senator from Connecticut and Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, Lieberman isn’t campaigning in Iowa and is hoping for a strong showing in New Hampshire to keep his candidacy alive. Lieberman is the most conservative of the Democratic slate on business and social issues. He’s been in politics since he was 27, when he was elected to the Connecticut State Senate.

WAR CHEST: $11.8 million; spent $7.7 million .

POPULARITY: Iowa, 2 percent; N.H., 9 percent.

TRADE: Would seek sanctions against China and other countries for manipulating currencies. However, supports expanding international trade deals, reflected in his votes in the Senate for NAFTA and other trade pacts. Supported legislation dropping duties on most African and Caribbean Basin apparel.

ECONOMY: Wants to create 10 percent tax credit for companies manufacturing in the U.S. and 20 percent tax credit for corporate information technology spending. Wants to waive capital gains tax for investment in start-up companies and to create a new-hire tax credit to cover company share of payroll taxes. Would repeal Bush tax cuts for two highest income brackets, while further lowering rates for middle-income brackets. Calls for restoration of estate tax.

HEALTH CARE: Federal help to pay health care costs of unemployed and create federal program to insure poor children and young adults. Crack down on junk food marketing to children.

IMMIGRATION: Favors temporary worker program and legal status for undocumented workers in the country for at least five years.

THE UNDERDOGS: Although considered long shots from the start to win the Democratic nomination, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and the Rev. Al Sharpton have worked as lightning rods in helping to invigorate debate on issues like trade and domestic manufacturing.

As president, Kucinich would withdraw the U.S. from the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, and renegotiate bilateral pacts requiring trading partners to follow tough labor and environmental standards.Braun, who voted in the Senate for NAFTA and creation of the WTO, would strike a balance between protectionist trade policies and “giving away the store” to foreign imports.

Sharpton sees no middle ground on trade and would pull the U.S. out of NAFTA and undertake a federally funded country-wide public works program to replace jobs lost to trade.

NOTE: Iowa caucus polls by the Los Angeles Times; New Hampshire primary polls by American Research Group; Campaign contributions as of Oct. 1.

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