President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to burnish his polls among white working class voters by touting a complex new trade-related lawsuit against China.
The lawsuit says China unfairly boosts its own high-tech manufacturers by limiting exports of rare metals needed for auto batteries and other high-tech products.
“We want our companies building their products right here in the United States… [and] if China would let the [raw-materials] market work on its own, we‘d have no objections,” Obama said in a short statement from the White House’s Rose Garden.
Free market advocates say China restricts the exports of these vital raw materials because it wants to boost its domestic high-tech industries.
The ability of U.S. companies to mine similar materials in the United States is choked by rules favored by environmentalists, say U.S. industry officials and some GOP legislators. Colorado’s Rep. Mike Coffman, for example, is pushing a bill titled RESTART, for Rare Earths Supply-Chain Technology and Resources Transformation, that would simplify new mining operations.
Obama’s TV-friendly statement is likely aimed at white working class voters in the Midwest.
Democrats lost majority support in this demographic decades ago, but Obama’s outreach could help cut the GOP’s likely November advantage among blue-collar whites sufficiently for him to win critical swing-states, such as Ohio.
To pull some slice of this group away from Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, Obama has repeatedly touted his support for the auto industry and for manufacturing jobs, and has repeatedly flattered blue-collar voters as “the world’s best workers.”
He’s made some progress in closing the gap.
Throughout the second half of last year, Romney had a 14-point advantage over Obama among non-college educated white voters, but that advantage narrowed to only five points in early March, according to polls performed by the Wall Street Journal and ABC.
The March poll showed Romney leading this group 48 percent to Obama’s 43 percent.
But Romney has also tried to win the demographic, and has made sure to criticize China’s trade policies. “I’ll clamp down on the cheaters, and China is the worst example of that,” Romney said at an October speech in Las Vegas.
“If they cheat, there is a price to pay… I don’t want a trade war, but I don’t want a trade surrender either,” he said.
Romney’s jobs plan also cites the Chinese government’s efforts to extract high-tech secrets from U.S. companies.
“On many occasions, Chinese companies have simply reverse-engineered American products, with no regard for the patents and other protections of intellectual property rights that are crucial to our own economic well-being,” according to the Romney plan.