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Rural Va. Economy A Chance For Kerry

That message resonates well at Danville Community College, where a group of middle-aged former textile workers talked last week about how they lost one job after another and how that might determine whom they vote for in November.

"I'm very angry that our politicians have let NAFTA go so far with moving jobs overseas," said Regina Anderson, a single mother of two teenagers who was laid off from a textile plant for the second time in February. "It was Friday the 13th. We were called on the telephone and told not to return."

Burnett Martin, 62, at work at Motley's tobacco warehouse in Danville, Va., says he plans to vote Democratic in November. He hopes change in the White House could help Southwest Virginia's struggling economy. (Jay Paul -- For The Washington Post)

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Anderson said she blames politicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, who pushed for the North American Free Trade Agreement. But she said she's voting for Kerry because she hopes he'll do more to fix the problem.

"I don't blame George Jr. I don't," she said. "But if they don't do something to turn this around, what do my teenagers have to look forward to?"

Cheryl Hill, 46, worked in a textile plant for 25 years before her job was exported in 2000. Using federal funds provided by NAFTA legislation, Hill went back to school at Danville Community College and now works in the college's financial aid office.

She said she plans to vote for Kerry, in part because she likes John Edwards.

"I know he came up the hard way," she said. "They will be more in tune with what we need here. I try to look at the issue. I look at Bush's record, all the jobs in textiles and tobacco are going overseas. I think it's time for a change."

Annette Burke, 44, agreed. She lost her job to a new factory in Mexico in 1998. After two years at the community college, she now designs Web sites. She is skeptical of Kerry's claim that he can help stem the tide of jobs going overseas.

"Bush promised the same thing and it didn't happen," she said. "So why not give someone else a chance?"

Staff writer David Nakamura, with Edwards in Roanoke, contributed to this report.

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