With President Obama campaigning in Ohio Wednesday, the Romney campaign is trying to undermine one of the president’s major pitches to Buckeye State voters: the auto industry bailout. The latest attempt is indicative of Romney’s larger strategy on this issue, wherein Romney aligns himself with the policy’s overall success while undermining Obama’s strong marks on the issue.
In a new ad released Wednesday, team Romney blames Obama for the closing of hundreds GM and Chrysler dealerships which closed in 2009 as part of the auto rescue. The ad centers on a dealership owner in Ohio, Al Zarzour, who was forced to close his business.
“I received a letter from General Motors. They were suspending my credit line. We had thirty-some employees that were out of work,” Zarzour says in the ad. “My wife and I were the last ones there. You know, it was like the dream that we worked for, and that we worked so hard for, was gone.”
The attack, it seems, is that while the auto rescue saved the industry overall — a widely assumed fact — the administration failed to save some jobs in the auto industry.
The issue of the auto bailout is politically tricky for Romney. Previously in Ohio, Romney claimed credit for the success of the auto bailout, saying that the administration ultimately chose a managed bankruptcy process to save the companies which he had advocated for in his unfortunately-titled 2008 New York Times op-ed. “I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done and help was given, the companies got back on their feet, so I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back,” Romney told a Cleveland TV station in May.
Bringing up the auto bailout in Ohio is a bold strategy for Romney. Though Romney seeks to poke holes in Obama’s popularity on the issue, he risks reminding voters of the fact that the auto bailout worked. A list of Obama’s failed policies in Ohio promoted Wednesday by the GOP omits any mention of the bailout.
Moreover, bringing up the bailout revives questions about Romney’s position on the issue. Asked about the presumptive nominee’s position on Wednesday, the campaign directed TPM to an op-ed Romney wrote in February ahead of the Michigan primary, in which he stressed that his own prescription for a managed bankruptcy was ultimately taken up by the administration. In the last few months, Romney has moved closer to embracing the use of public funds which auto industry experts say was necessary to save the auto-industry.
The Obama campaign pushed back immediately on the new ad, stressing that the bailout was a success and that more Ohioans have jobs at car dealerships now than before the bailout.
“Let’s get this straight - the very person who argued for the US auto industry to go bankrupt, something that would have caused more than a million jobs lost and utter economic devastation in the midwest, is now trying to attack the President on how it was handled?” Frank Benenati, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said in a statement. “This ad in Ohio is a new low for the Romney campaign, and instead of trying to deceive Ohioans they should get their facts straight because there are now 2,200 more Ohioans employed in dealerships than when the President took office. While the President was busy saving the US auto industry - which has 1 in 8 Ohio jobs tied to it - Mitt Romney was busy arguing that we should turn our backs on an iconic industry and the workers in Ohio. The Romney campaign will say anything in this election, and this ad is proof positive of that.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.