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Manufacturing czar nominee withdraws

Kerry said nominee's company sent jobs to China

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

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John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nebraska businessman Anthony Raimondo withdrew his name Thursday from consideration as the administration's new "manufacturing czar," two administration officials told CNN.

The move came in the wake of sharp attacks from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

Raimondo is chairman and CEO of the Behlen Manufacturing Group.

Behlen makes steel buildings and livestock pens used mostly in the agricultural sector.

Raimondo is active in the National Association of Manufacturers, an industry group generally in line with Republicans on economic issues.

The officials said Raimondo acted on his own to withdraw his name, and attributed it to tension over the fact that Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, had not been consulted about Raimondo's possible appointment.

One of the officials acknowledged that Raimondo "certainly was well aware of the dust-up" the planned appointment had caused in the presidential campaign and in the broader debate with Democrats over Bush's economic policies.

Democrats are focusing on the economy as a campaign issue, stressing the transfer of U.S. jobs out of the country, an issue that polls show resonates with voters.

A Kerry campaign release said Raimondo, who is an outspoken advocate of international trade, laid off some of his workers in the United States and opened a plant in China.

White House officials said the plant in China was to meant to increase sales in China and across Asia and has strengthened the financial bottom line of the company's U.S. operations.

Administration officials said the company did not ship products from the China plant back to the United States.

The new post, assistant secretary for manufacturing in the Commerce Department, has been nicknamed the administration's "manufacturing czar."

The nominee would be charged with making sure administration policy helps the nation's struggling manufacturing base.

Bush announced he was creating the new position five months ago, and many Democrats have been harshly critical recently at the delay in filling the post.

They said the long wait suggested to them that Bush made the announcement as a publicity stunt and that the post must not have any meaningful authority.

On Wednesday, Kerry took a different tack.

"Putting another bureaucrat in the Department of Commerce isn't going to get people back to work," he said in a written statement.

"This is like the quarterback late in the fourth quarter promising he can turn the game around by hiring a new water boy."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan had a sharply worded retort when asked about the Kerry statement.

"Senator Kerry's dishonest political rhetoric cannot hide his pessimistic, jobs-killing policies of tax increases and economic isolation," McClellan said.

While the Kerry campaign was harshly critical of the possible selection of Raimondo, a Senate Democratic colleague of Kerry's offered high praise.

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who served on the Behlen Group board after leaving the governor's office three years ago, said in a statement:

"I've known Tony for years, and the president made an excellent choice. Tony has his finger on the pulse of the manufacturing industry, and he will be a great advocate for manufacturers and their employees."

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