When the Thunderbird Mine shut down in May 2003, Chuck Schanno figured he had seen the last of his days working in Minnesota's open-pit iron mines.

Schanno, 48, got a new job maintaining telephone lines for Minnesota Power. The job security was a relief, but the 102-mile drive to work was a grind.

So when a Chinese steel company bought 30 percent of the mine to help reopen it a year ago, Schanno eagerly returned. And he credits one politician with helping get his job back: President Bush.

It was Bush's 30 percent tariff on imported steel that jump-started U.S. steel mills and got the Iron Range mines going again, says Schanno. Former President Bill Clinton had complained that foreign dumping of steel hurt the U.S. industry, but never took action, he observes.

"I find it ironic that it took a Republican president to put the tariffs in place," Schanno said.

Schanno knows the story is more complicated than that. After all, Bush removed the tariffs last December after the World Trade Organization found they broke trade rules. Demand from China and a global economic rebound have done more than the tariffs to get Minnesota's mines busy again.

But Schanno doesn't care. "President Bush got the ball rolling," he said.

Nothing is simple when it comes to presidential politics and trade. The issues are so complex, the politics so contorted, that Bush and Sen. John Kerry have each found ways to turn the trade issue to their advantage. Trade has taken a position of prominence in the campaign, and Americans' concerns over outsourcing of jobs have even overshadowed nuclear proliferation and terrorism for some voters.

The president is an avowed free-trader who nevertheless imposed the steel tariffs, one of the largest levies ever by a U.S. president. His administration backed the largest agricultural subsidy ever, a $190 billion package, yet continued negotiating with the European Union toward elimination of trade-distorting farm subsidies.

Kerry, for his part, has consistently voted for free-trade measures, from the North American Free Trade Agreement to normalized trade relations with China. But as a presidential candidate, he has criticized NAFTA, promised a 120-day review of all existing trade deals and named as his running mate one of NAFTA's harshest critics, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

"John Kerry had an outstanding free-trade record during the 1990s," said Tim Adams, policy director for the Bush campaign. "Unfortunately, he's walked away from it in the presidential campaign."

Trade typically has been a back-burner issue in presidential politics. But this year, one topic has moved trade to the short list of topics on which the election might turn.

That issue is outsourcing. The Economic Policy Institute says 935,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000 to trade related imbalances; Forrester Research says that some 3.3 million white-collar jobs will be lost to outsourcing by 2015.

Indeed, the outsourcing phenomenon is moving up the value chain of the U.S. workforce.

Americans have grown accustomed to seeing manufacturers move their operations to low-cost sites like Mexico and China. But now that outsourcing has begun claiming knowledge-based jobs--everything from phone banks to medical record-keeping to legal research to computer programming--it is creating an even larger stir.

Kerry has railed against "Benedict Arnold CEOs" who send jobs overseas. Bush's advisers, meanwhile, have spent time backtracking on a statement by the chairman of the president's council of economic advisers that "outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade. ... And that's a good thing."

Just how big an issue is outsourcing? A national survey by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations last July showed that Americans were more concerned about outsourcing than nuclear proliferation or combating international terrorism.

Other polling, by the Pew Center for public opinion research and New York's Council on Foreign Relations, have placed national security ahead of outsourcing.

"Outsourcing is a relatively new form of international economic competition. There's a high degree of alarm about it," said Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Concerns about outsourcing are driving perceptions about the economy, which are "going to rank relatively even with or on the same order of magnitude as terrorism, nukes and Iraq," Bouton predicts.