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Obama courts labor voters in auto industry's footprint

President Obama says that the $85 billion bailout of General Motors and Chrysler saved millions of jobs that may have been lost without the money, speaking in a high school gym packed with auto workers and other union members in Toledo, Ohio.

 

TOLEDO, OH -- President Barack Obama decried Republican opponent Mitt Romney's opposition to the 2009 auto industry bailout before a crowd full of autoworkers gathered here for Labor Day.

Surrounded by some 3,000 supporters -- many of whom were sporting United Auto Worker (UAW) t-shirts -- in a high school gym, Obama said he had made sure to stop in Toledo, a major auto industry hub as part of his campaign across the country in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

"I wanted to stop here in Toledo to spend this day with you," he said as the crowd applauded. "A day that belongs to the working men and women of America."

The bailout was first initiated by President George W. Bush, and won the support of some Midwestern Republicans, including the vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Romney penned an op-ed at the time, infamously titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," that the Obama campaign has used against the GOP presidential candidate.

"You remember that?" Obama asked the crowd as they booed.

He also decried Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich for claiming he had led a turnaround in this economically ravaged swing state; that turnaround wouldn't be the case if not for the administration's policies, Obama said.

"I guess the theory was it’s all the governor’s doing. But I think we need to refresh his memory. Because a lot of those jobs are auto worker jobs like yours," Obama said.

Kasich has previously downplayed the positive effect of the bailout in his state, arguing in July on Meet the Press that it wasn’t responsible for as many auto jobs as Democrats might claim.

Obama's appearance here marked an effort to court Ohio's influential labor vote, which could make a big difference for the president in his bid for a second term; Obama won 58 of Ohio's union members in 2008.

And the importance of the auto industry to Ohio’s economy -- according to a February 2011 state government study, 7.5 percent of economic activity here relates to auto production -- meant Toledo was the perfect place for Obama to compare his position on the auto bailout with Romney’s.

The president also seized a statement Romney made in Cincinnati on Saturday, when the former Massachusetts governor called for a “new coach” that would bring America a “winning season.”

Reacting to that comment, the president went off on his own extended football analogy, seeming to suggest to his presidential rival that Romney not tread on the home turf of the nation’s best-known sports fan.

"After their convention Gov. Romney came here to Ohio and he said he’s going to be the coach that leads America to a winning season," Obama said. "The problem is everybody’s already seen his economic playbook."

Then he explained how Romney would spend the next three “downs” destroying the economic recovery by raising taxes, which he deemed “unnecessary roughness,” calling an audible by undoing financial regulations, and finally calling for a Hail Mary on the third down by “ending Medicare as we know it.”

“There’s a flag on the play! Loss of up to an additional 64 hundred dollars a year on the same benefits that you get now!” he shouted. “I’ve got one piece of advice for you about the Romney/Ryan game plan, Ohio. It won’t work! It won’t win the game!”

“You don’t need that coach,” he concluded.

The event in Toledo concluded Obama’s political events on this four-day swing; he headed to Louisiana after the event to tour the damage from Hurricane Isaac in St. John the Baptist Parish and talk to officials there.