Here in Ohio and other Rust Belt battleground states where this election will be decided – the auto bailouts are a personal, political and pocket-book issue.
The latest campaign skirmish over the auto industry concerns comments Mitt Romney made on the stump about Chrysler allegedly moving Jeep manufacturing overseas to China. This drew immediate outcry from the company and provided a field day for Fact-Checkers who pronounced the statement a “Pants-on-Fire.”
But the Romney campaign doubled down with a television and radio ad, reasserting their claims. The radio ad aired initially in Toledo, and here’s what it said:
“Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry, but for whom? Ohio or China? Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they’re planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China and now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeep soon. You guessed it, China. What happened to the promises made to auto workers in Toledo and throughout Ohio; the same hardworking men and women who were told Obama’s auto bailout would help them?…”
Tough stuff – and the focus on China was no accident. Outsourcing to China is a major issue for auto-workers here.
On the CNN battleground bus tour, I spoke with both Ohio senators – Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown – on the subject.
Senator Portman was speaking at a Stark County campaign headquarters Get-Out-The-Vote Rally. He defended the ad, saying “I don’t think it is inaccurate. I mean, it was a story in Bloomberg that said that Fiat has made a decision to start building jeeps in China, and that’s all the ad says.”
For emphasis, Portman had his communications director email me the Bloomberg article he cited.
But speaking to CNN at a union hall rally in Canton, Ohio, Senator Brown had a very different take on the ad’s accuracy and motivation. “I’d say it’s the most disingenuous ad I’ve ever seen. They know better,” said Senator Brown, who is in a tough re-election race right now. “They know that the auto rescue worked. They understand that 800,000 Ohioans are connected directly or indirectly to the auto rescue, and they know that Governor Romney and my opponent’s opposition to the auto rescue forced them at the polls. So they’re trying to cloud the issue, and it’s pretty outrageous.”
President Clinton and Vice-President Biden also took time in their Youngstown, Ohio event to slam the Romney ad on Jeep as “the biggest load of bull in the world.”
In the final week of the election, both sides will try to spin the issue to their advantage. But the truth matters and in the search for a tie-breaker opinion, I think it’s useful to listen to the business itself.
GM spokesman Greg Martin told the Detroit Free Press that the Romney ad was “campaign politics at its cynical worst” – adding “We’ve clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days.”
It’s rare that you hear a company spokesman weigh into partisan fights with such harsh language – but it offers the kind of clarity that’s needed in the spin-saturated skirmishes of these high-stakes last few days of Election 2012.