President Obama’s successful rescue of the auto industry is helping the president maintain a small lead in the crucial battleground state of Ohio. But in the final days of the campaign, Mitt Romney is trying to erode that edge.
In a new ad in Ohio, the Romney campaign argues that it’s Mitt Romney who will support the auto industry and that the president put the companies through a destructive bankruptcy process that will result in jobs going overseas.
“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama,” a narrator says in the ad, which was not announced by the campaign but which media outlets report ran in the Toledo market in Ohio. “Fact checkers confirm his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He’s supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News.”
The ad continues: “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
The Obama campaign often references Romney’s 2008 New York Times op-ed “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” to contrast Obama’s position on the rescue to Romney’s. It’s an attack this ad tries to turn around by associating Obama with the word “bankruptcy,” even though the managed bankruptcy plan is one Romney has tried repeatedly to take credit for, including in Monday night’s final presidential debate. Where Romney’s plan diverges from the one Obama put in place is that Romney did not call for federal aid until after the bankruptcy process was complete even though credit markets were frozen and experts widely doubt the auto makers would have had access to private capital to avert liquidation.
“I said they need — these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d — they’d built up,” Romney said Monday night.
The claim in the ad on Jeep jobs moving to China is misleading. Earlier this week, Gualberto Ranieri, senior vice president of Chrysler’s corporate communications, wrote on the company’s blog: “Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China. It’s simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world’s largest auto market.” In other words, it may build jeeps in China that are meant to be sold to Chinese consumers but will not relocate any current domestic production to China.
The ad’s mention of the Detroit News endorsement fails to mention that the conservative paper’s endorsement came in spite of what it’s editors called Romney’s “wrong-headedness on the auto bailout.”
But the ad is just one piece of a last-minute push to repair Romney’s image when it comes to the auto-industry rescue. The arguments from the campaign, the candidate himself and surrogates are somewhat scattered, as they both try to give Romney credit for the rescue — as Romney claimed in the debate — and blame Obama for anything that might have gone wrong during the rescue.
On Saturday, Paul Ryan criticized the rescue as an example of “government picking winners and losers” — one of his more common attacks on the stump — while speaking to a group of auto-industry employees who suffered cuts to their pensions in the bankruptcy process.
On the Sunday shows, Republicans argued that Romney was on the side of saving the auto industry.
“I’m glad the auto industry is strong, David, and I don’t know anybody who didn’t think the auto industry needed to be saved,” Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich said to host David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I mean, I will tell you personally there is no way I would support anybody that didn’t support the auto industry.”
But Kasich went on to downplay the rescue, saying that Ohio’s economy is rebounding thanks not just to the auto industry but to diversification of the state’s economy.
Later on the show, former Republican U.S. Senate candidate in California Carly Fiorina also defended Romney: “It is factually inaccurate to say that Governor Romney was against the rescue of the auto industry,” she said. “And what he says in that op-ed is that he believed that the government should have provided financial guarantees. The difference between Governor Romney’s approach and President Obama’s approach is who gets to stand first in line to get paid off.”
Democrats offer a different narrative of what happened, arguing that President Obama’s lead in the state is largely because the auto rescue has proven a key part of the state’s recovery. On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said that the auto rescue and the stimulus “set the table” for Ohio’s recovery. “Ohioans recognize that and I think that’s why the president is going to win Ohio,” he said.
Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith called Romney’s new ad “a sure sign that he knows he’s in trouble in Ohio” in a statement on the ad.
“When the American auto industry and a million workers’ jobs were on the line, Mitt Romney turned his back. Now he’s pretending it never happened and is trying to scare Ohioans by repeating a blatant falsehood that Chrysler is moving its Jeep operations to China.”
Smith argued that the ad won’t help Romney in Ohio. “Ohioans know where he stood when it mattered most and won’t be fooled by his dishonest ads in the final days of this campaign,” she said.
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.