BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — As presidential candidates turn their focus to New York, local voters like those who work in the auto industry, will be paying close attention to what they say about strengthening the manufacturing base, and ensuring places like the Ford stamping plant can remain viable.
“The auto industry has a very rich history in Buffalo. For a long time, we were No. 2 in producing cars behind Detroit,” said Art Wheaton of Cornell University’s The Worker Institute. “You’ve got the big Tonawanda engine plant, which is the largest plant in the world. You have major investment for the Buffalo stamping plant.”
Those workers aren’t just the backbone of the region’s manufacturing sector. They’re votes. And candidates aren’t shy about grabbing their attention.
Over the course of the past several months, candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have largely run on buy-American platforms, and clamping down on free trade. This is where Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz agree.
Sanders has said wide open trade agreements hurt American workers. And, after her loss in Michigan last month, Hillary Clinton has been promising her policies would usher in a “manufacturing renaissance.”
Local experts say unions representing workers in the auto industry aren’t as left leaning as they may have historically been, meaning they’re just as important for candidates on both sides of the aisle.
“I think it’s trying to show the image that you’re there for the working people, so it’s jobs, jobs, jobs, that’s really what’s important,” Wheaton said. “I think it’s kind of difficult these days. I think it’s kind of traditional that all the unions voted democratic. But I don’t think it’s that way anymore. I think it’s everyone goes into the ballot box and has the freedom to choose whoever they want to.”
Most recently, Ford announced it would invest $1.6 billion into a plant in Mexico — creating more than 2,500 jobs — a move Donald Trump considered a “disgrace.”
Wheaton said that’s a shortsighted view for the Republican frontrunner.
“I think it’s naive and kind of dangerous to try to have that kind of perspective cause the auto industry is very global,” he said. “There are winners and losers, but overall, it’s increased the number of vehicles that are sold, it’s increased the profit for the companies, it’s increased the jobs in some of the other countries for more trade. If you’re making those products, that’s wonderful, no matter where they’re assembled, you’re going to be able to make those products for them and you’ll sell more.”
Wheaton also said western New York’s union base will automatically cast a Democratic ballot, leaving candidates on both sides of the aisle to hit hot-button issues.
As candidates make their stops in WNY over the course of the next two weeks, expect talking points to focus on the region’s auto industry. It’s no coincidence that Hillary Clinton’s rally will be taking place on Friday at the Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum, a place that celebrates Buffalo’s place in automotive history.