A new bumper sticker has replaced the Reagan campaign's "Leadership That's Working" sticker pasted on so many cars here last fall. "Buy American Textiles: Save American Jobs," it says.
The slogan is at home here. This is textile country, and the industry is in deep trouble.
The industry lost 19,500 jobs in 1984; 61 plants shut down in North and South Carolina alone. Another 21 plants have closed since Jan. 1 in this state; 11 more experienced major layoffs.
Even industry giants like Burlington Mills, which began here and is now headquartered in nearby Greensboro, have felt the pinch as foreign imports continue their growth rate of 19 percent each year since 1980.
"There simply won't be a textile industry if something isn't done. The foreign competition is killing us," said Ben J. Tyler, a Burlington Mills executive who sold his Toyota this year "out of pure embarrassment."
Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), who was elected on President Reagan's coattails and calls himself a "free trader," feels the political winds. Everywhere he went during the congressional recess, he announced that he has broken with the Reagan administration on the trade issue, and is working on legislation to roll back textile imports.
"Overall, I'm not critical of this administration. I think Vice President Bush and Ronald Reagan are an awesome team, but I'm not going to be a rubber stamp," Coble told the Burlington Chamber of Commerce the other day.
"If you want to call it protectionism, so be it," he said. "The issue isn't free trade. I'm a free trader. But what good is free trade if it isn't fair trade? The issue is domestic jobs. If you have to choose between foreign jobs and domestic jobs, I'll go with domestic jobs every time."
Coble, 54, is a member of the old-country-lawyer school of politics. He chews tobacco, boasts that his favorite meal is pig brains and scrambled eggs and speaks in tones as down-home as red-eye gravy. "I'm a slow-lane guy in an eternally fast-lane town," he said.
But Coble is also a man on the spot. He represents one of the most marginal congressional districts in the nation -- North Carolina's 6th -- which has had four congressmen since 1980, two Democrats and two Republicans.
"Ya'll are supposed to examine me. You are my bosses," he told the Chamber of Commerce here. "If I don't do right, throw me out."
Coble says the trade issue is one that can make or break his career. His district has three major industries -- textiles, furniture manufacturing and agriculture. Textiles and agriculture, which is heavily dependent on tobacco sales, are in deep trouble.
Furniture manufacturers fear that their industry may be the next hit by foreign competition, Coble said. "They furniture manufacturers are telling the textile people, 'If you don't get this thing straightened out, Katie bar the door, because we'll be right in your wake.' "