Auto industry bailout - or rescue - driving Ohio race

Oct 28, 2012

Ohio is the birthplace of aviation, but automobiles are driving this presidential election in the Buckeye State.

Specifically, the 2009 move by the federal government to save General Motors and Chrysler from going down the drain. The auto industry “bailout,” as the Romney campaign likes to call it. The Obama campaign prefers the term “rescue.”

There is really no way to adequately describe how critical Ohio is to the question Americans will decide in nine days – who will occupy the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years.

And the Obama campaign is rolling the dice on the auto industry rescue or bailout, or whatever you want to call it, to make the difference.

President Obama and his surrogates, campaigning across Ohio, never fail to mention the 850,000 jobs they say were saved or created by the federal government stepping in to save the auto companies; and how, in Ohio, one out of every eight jobs is connected in some way – directly or indirectly – to the making of automobiles.

Sherrod Brown, the first-term Democratic senator from Ohio who is locked in a tough re-election campaign, is riding this horse too.

Brown has a campaign ad where he is sitting jauntily behind the wheel of a brand-new Chevy Cruze, fresh off the assembly line in Lordstown, Ohio, and making the point that his support for rescuing the auto industry made this Ohio-made car possible and created new jobs.

Brown’s opponent, Josh Mandel, has adamantly opposed the auto industry bailout, going so far as to call Brown “un-American” for supporting it.

“I’m not a bailout senator,’’ Mandel said in his third and final debate with Brown Thursday night in Cincinnati.

Obama and his surrogates never waste an opportunity to wave in the face of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney the headline of a 2008 op-ed piece  Romney wrote for the New York Times. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” the headline read, in big, bold, black letters.

The president, in one of the debates, went into Romney’s kitchen and accused him of wanting to let the auto industry die on the vine, while he was bold enough to act and save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of auto workers.

Of course, there was more to that op-ed piece than a headline. Romney advocated a more limited role for government – backing warranties and guaranteeing private sector financing for the companies while they climbed out of bankruptcy.

“First, it was President Obama who actually took GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy; that’s a fact,’’ Sen. Rob Portman of Terrace Park told a crowd at a Romney rally in Defiance Thursday night. “Second, Mitt Romney did propose government help. He proposed government guaranties for the loans. He proposed the government backing up the warranties, and, folks, all the independent fact checkers who have looked at this agree – President Obama was wrong.”

Well, maybe not all of them.

The problem with that, many analysts have said, is that it is doubtful the private sector would have stepped forward with the cash to lift the companies out of bankruptcy.

Romney doesn’t talk a lot about the issue on the campaign trail. It seems to be something of a sore point.

At that same rally in Defiance in northwest Ohio, Romney didn’t talk about the bailout, but he did jump into the auto industry debate.

“I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers of this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China,’’ Romney said.

Democrats jumped on this piece of raw meat.

Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern quickly issued a press release blasting the GOP nominee for suggesting that Jeep, which makes cars in Toledo, is contemplating moving Ohio jobs to China.

“Mitt Romney is no longer just suffering from Romnesia – he is now completely dishonest and deceitful with Ohioans whose livelihoods depend on the auto industry.”

The Obama campaign fired out to reporters a statement from Gualberto Ranieri, a spokesman for Chrysler, the parent company of Jeep.

“Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China,’’ Ranieri said. “It’s simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world’s largest auto market. U.S. Jeep assembly lines will continue to stay in operation.”

Romney may drop that line from his next stump speech in northwest Ohio.

Whether or not this issue will matter in the long run is a subject of debate.

A lot of Ohio Democratic leaders are convinced that the slim lead Obama appears to have in the polls – 2.1 percent according to the website Real Clear Politics average of the last eight Ohio polls – is because the auto bailout, or rescue, as they prefer, is very popular in northwest and northeast Ohio, where Ohio’s piece of the auto industry is centered.


And that is why you can be assured that Obama will ride this car as far as it will take him, from now to Nov. 6.