Emmanuel Dunand / AFP - Getty Images
Mitt Romney holds a rally at Defiance High School in Defiance, Ohio, on Thursday.
DEFIANCE, Ohio – Under the bright lights of a high school football field here in Northwest Ohio, Mitt Romney's opposition to the 2009 auto bailout reared its head again as a campaign issue that could help decide the result of this critical swing state.
Sen. Rob Portman, introducing Romney, brought up the bailout, telling a crowd of more than 10,000 supporters that "we need to talk about this tonight" in an effort to clear up what he said were dishonest attacks by the president at the last debate.
"First, it was President Obama who actually took GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy. That’s a fact," Portman said. "Second, Mitt Romney did propose government help. He proposed government guarantees for 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."
While on the trail today, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused President Obama's campaign of not having a plan, and ignored questions about Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's controversial remarks on rape. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
Romney did not mention the bailout explicitly, but did voice his support for the U.S. auto industry, saying he would stand up to China on trade issues that affect auto companies and mentioning reports today that automaker Jeep was considering moving its operations entirely overseas.
"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. I will fight for every good job in America. I'm going to fight to make sure trade is fair, and if it’s fair, America will win," Romney said.
Democrats quickly seized on any mention of the auto industry to reinforce Obama's bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, looking to capitalize on an issue they believe is particularly resonant among voters in this corner of Ohio.
"While Barack Obama bet on the American worker and saved the American auto industry and more than one million jobs, Mitt Romney would have just ‘let Detroit go bankrupt.’ Voters in Ohio won’t forget how—at a make or break moment for one of America’s key industries—Mitt Romney would have turned his back and watched GM and Chrysler go under," Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith said in a statement.
The Obama campaign also forwarded reporters a statement from a Chrysler spokesperson claiming there were never plans to move assembly lines to China.
“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. U.S. Jeep assembly lines will continue to stay in operation,” Gualberto Ranieri, a spokesman for Chrysler said in the statement posted on the automakers' blog.
Reuters, Getty Images
In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.
Coincidentally, after the Thursday night rally, a group of Detroit newspapers announced they would be endorsing President Obama, shredding Romney for his position in opposition to the bailout.
"It is an unforgivable and unconscionable [sic] position by a man with the audacity to claim himself a son of Detroit. Romney may have grown up here, but he left long ago," the editorial on MLive.com read in part.
All this serves to highlight how the auto bailout legacy continues to be a political minefield for Romney here in the industrial Midwest.
On Friday, Romney will return to safer ground in Iowa where he is scheduled to deliver a speech on the economy, debt and deficits, which could serve as a summation of his views on the election's most important issue as the campaign moves into its final full week.