Issue One: Will Buchanan Get a Deficit Bounce?

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What's bad for the U.S. trade balance could be very good for Pat Buchanan — at least for a little while. The isolationist presidential candidate may want to put a few more volunteers on his switchboard after Thursday's Commerce Department announcement that the U.S. racked up a $24.4 billion trade deficit in September — 3.7 percent higher than it was the month before. That's bad news for American manufacturers, who have lost a half million jobs since 1998 as worldwide exports of U.S. goods continue to fall.

And that's not even the bad news for President Clinton. This is: The U.S. trade imbalance with China has reached record levels, which could mean trouble not only for the President, but for the presidential wannabes (Gore, Bradley, Bush, McCain) who approve of his pledge to support China's bid for membership in the World Trade Organization. Which should leave the issue wide open for Buchanan, a conservative who has been a vocal opponent of recent trade agreements.

Unfortunately for Pat, labor endorsements aren't likely to budge from the Gore camp. And while the latest numbers could be quick-burning fuel for Buchanan's campaign, in the long run — and in the face of otherwise rosy economic indicators — a trade deficit won't translate into any mass voter migration. In the end, says TIME financial writer Adam Zagorin, the trade deficit will be a burden for business, not for politicians. "The slight increase in the U.S. trade deficit with China is further evidence of the growing imbalance in commercial exchanges between the two countries," says Zagorin. "And although U.S. business is firmly in favor of admitting China to the WTO, data like this won't make their public relations job any easier."