Updated 4 p.m. ET — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign doubled down on its assertion about auto industry jobs moving to China with a new radio ad in northwest Ohio.
A Romney for president ad airing on Toledo, Ohio's classic rock station, WXKR, strongly insinuates that President Barack Obama's 2009 bailout of the auto industry has led to jobs shifting from the United States to China.
The narrator in the ad says:
Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry. But for who? Ohio or China? Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are 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 Jeeps is starting to build cars in, you guessed it, China. What happened to the promises made to autoworkers in Toledo and throughout Ohio? The same hard-working men and women who were told that Obama’s auto bailout would help them. Mitt Romney grew up in the auto industry. Maybe that’s why the Detroit News endorsed him saying ‘Romney understands the industry and will shield it from regulators who never tire of churning out new layers of mandates. Mitt Romney – he’ll stand up for the auto industry. In Ohio, not China.
The radio spot follows a TV controversial ad playing to fears that Chrysler had plans to move production of Jeeps from the U.S. to China. Romney and other Republicans had previously given voice to errant reports suggesting such a shift, though those original reports referred only to capacity for production of vehicles in China for sale in China.
The TV ad drew extensive coverage in the media for its suggestion that Jeep was moving jobs to China at the expense of positions in the United States. Toledo, a prime swing territory in the battleground state of Ohio, is home to a major Jeep production facility.
The radio spot goes a step further in stoking fears that U.S. production of Jeeps would be moved offshore to China.
As First Read wrote on Monday, this series of ads — running during the closing days of the campaign — mark an effort by Romney to re-frame his opposition to the auto industry bailout and defend himself from Obama's attacks on the issue.
As Ohio has become almost a must-win state for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, he has sought to blur distinctions between himself and President Barack Obama on the issue of the 2009 auto bailouts.
A new TV ad playing to erroneous fears that Jeep might move its manufacturing from Ohio to China caps a prolonged effort by Romney to recast his opposition to Obama's actions to prop up an industry that employs one in eight of Ohio's voters.
Romney has sought to reframe his criticism of Obama's handling of the 2009 rescue of General Motors and Chrysler in an effort to combat the president's usage of the bailout to court swing voters in the Buckeye State. The GOP nominee has argued it was Obama who took the companies bankrupt, and has argued that he would be a better president for beleaguered autoworkers.
Mitt Romney campaigns in the critical battleground state of Ohio as a poll shows a dead heat between the governor and President Obama. Watch the entire speech.
And a new television ad airing in Toledo and Youngstown, Ohio, the Romney campaign raises the specter of production of Jeeps moving from the U.S. to China, an assertion which Jeep's Italian parent company has said is blatantly false.
The GOP candidate's new tack represents an effort to play offense on the issue of auto bailouts in the final eight days of the campaign. Obama has used Romney's opposition to the 2008-09 rescue to great effect in Ohio and other Midwestern states, where the former Massachusetts governor must perform well if he's to have any hope of being elected president.
"You saw in the debates that Barack Obama said a few things that were, as he said, whoppers," Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said at a Romney rally on Monday in Cleveland. "He turned to Mitt Romney and said, 'You wanted to take those companies through bankruptcy and not provide them any federal aid.' Let me tell you, I supported a rescue package for the autos, but what Barack Obama said was simply not true. And by the way, it was Barack Obama who took GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich tells David Gregory that the job creators deserve the credit for helping raise Ohio's economic growth.
Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich, also suggested Sunday on "Meet the Press" that the bailout hadn't been as great as Obama might suggest.
"We are thrilled that we have a strong auto industry," he argued, "but it doesn't account for the growth of 112,000 jobs in our state."
But it was the Jeep ad in particular that marked the culmination of an effort by Romney over the past 18 months to reframe the auto debate on friendlier terms.
"Obama took GM and Chrylser into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China," the narrator of the ad says as a clip of a disputed Bloomberg News report appears onscreen, saying Chrysler "plans to return Jeep output to China."
The original Bloomberg report became fodder for conservatives, including Romney, who said last week in Ohio that Jeep "is thinking of moving all production to China." But Jeep's ownership has said it isn't planning to move any U.S. production to China; rather, the automaker is establishing new capacity in China to build vehicles that will be sold in China.
But the ad plays to those ill-founded fears. A fair viewing of the ad might leave that impression with a voter, though the language in the ad is so narrowly tailored that it can't be directly disputed.
That could make a difference in a battleground territory like northwest Ohio, the home to a major Jeep plant that employs thousands of Toledoans and almost left the area in the late 1990s until the city stepped forward to offer hundreds of millions in tax credits.
The Obama campaign responded with a TV ad of its own, accusing the GOP nominee of being "wrong then" and "dishonest now."
Romney, whose father was an auto executive before becoming governor of Michigan, penned an op-ed shortly after the 2008 election, infamously titled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." The piece for the New York Times opposed the loans for the companies that then-outgoing President George W. Bush and some Republicans (including Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who would become Romney's vice presidential nominee) had favored, calling instead for a managed bankruptcy for GM and Chrysler with government support for the companies' warranties and for post-bankruptcy financing offered by private lenders.
Obama eventually embarked upon a different course. His administration negotiated a managed bankruptcy with bondholders, autoworkers' unions and the companies' leadership, while occasionally injecting the companies with capital drawn from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in order to stave off a more drastic bankruptcy, and possible liquidation.
Democrats contend that no private financing was available to the auto companies during the bailout, and the government was the only actor equipped to provide the companies with a lifeline while simultaneously negotiating their bankruptcy, from which GM and Chrysler immediately emerged.
The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports with the latest.
The bailout was unpopular at the time, derided by Republicans as a favor for unions, since autoworkers' pensions — in conservatives' view — were favored over dealers and other secured bondholders. Indeed, the Indiana State Police Pension Fund sued to prevent the deal from going forward, but it was rejected by the Supreme Court.
GM and Chrysler both rebounded in the months following the bailout to improve sales and profits, allowing the companies to pay off their loans from the government more quickly than expected. Their success has been heralded ever since by Democrats as a gutsy and successful example of Obama's leadership at the height of the Great Recession.
And since that time, Romney has — at alternating moments — both embraced and rejected central elements of Obama's decision making.
The Republican nominee has argued that it was his original idea, rather than Obama's, to put the auto companies through bankruptcy, though Romney's proposed process would have differed immensely. (Romney's plan wouldn't have necessarily forced GM and Chrysler into liquidation, nor was that what the governor had advocated — contrary to the president's suggestion during this month's debate.)
Romney was most pointedly forced to confront his opposition to the bailout during the Michigan and Ohio primaries in late February and early March. The Michigan native repeatedly called himself a "car guy" while campaigning near the Motor City, and appeared driving a Chrysler in a TV ad.
And Romney took to the editorial page of the Detroit News, where he accused Obama of "crony capitalism" in the bailout and said the companies would have been better off without Obama's intervention.
"Instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Obama rewarded them," Romney wrote.
As with a number of other issues since the primary, Romney, the Republican standard-bearer, has tried to soften the edges of some of his harder-charging rhetoric during the primaries.
"I’m a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry. My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks," Romney said at the third and final debate a week ago against Obama.
The GOP nominee's claim prompted the president to accuse Romney of trying to "airbrush history."
Speaking Monday in Youngstown, Ohio, former President Bill Clinton got in on the action. He said Chrysler "put out a statement sayin' it was the biggest load of bull in the world" in reference of the Jeep-to-China rumors.
"He ties himself in more knots than a Boy Scout does in a knot-tying contest," Clinton said of Romney.
Ohio's Republican governor said Sunday that private polls show Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney beating President Barack Obama in the all-important battleground state of Ohio just as auto industry politics assume a dominant role in the closing days of the campaign.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) predicted outright that Romney would win Ohio on "Meet the Press" and, with it, the presidential election — a overall contest which Kasich said wouldn't be that close.
"Right now, I believe we're currently ahead. Internals show us currently ahead," he said, referring to the private polling candidates routinely conduct. "Honestly, I believe that Romney is going to carry Ohio."
The governor's show of confidence comes after a week in which Obama and Romney — along with their respective running mates — barnstormed the Buckeye State in hopes of securing the state's 18 electoral votes, which would greatly enhance either candidate's hopes of winning the presidential election.
A Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio News poll released Sunday and conducted Oct. 18-23 showed the two candidates tied at 49 percent apiece among likely voters in the state. Two other public polls earlier in the week, by CNN/ORC and TIME magazine, showed Obama leading by a small margin.
Romney was set to spend Sunday touring the Buckeye State after canceling a series of stops in Virginia due to the impending Hurricane Sandy; Obama will make a quick trip to Youngstown on Monday before returning to Washington to monitor the hurricane. The president canceled planned stops in northern Virginia and Colorado in the first half of this week.
Both the president and Romney are battling to turn out their supporters to the polls and shake loose the few remaining undecided voters in a handful of swing states. The Romney campaign has claimed that momentum is on their side, a claim which the Obama campaign argues is a bluff.
The Romney campaign circulated on Sunday several newspaper endorsements — the Des Moines Register and the Cincinnati Enquirer among them — to argue that the Republican ticket had made inroads in crucial swing states. The Obama campaign responded in kind by sending reporters endorsement editorials from the Youngstown Vindicator and the Toledo Blade, both of which referenced the 2009 auto industry bailout as a point in Obama's favor.
The auto bailout — which Romney had opposed, memorably, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" — has assumed a central role in the closing days of the campaign, especially as the election plays out largely on a Midwestern, industrial and economically-battered playing field.
The Romney campaign also aired a new ad in Ohio touting an endorsement from the right-leaning Detroit News and iconic automan Lee Iacocca, while also making a controversial claim about productions of Jeeps in China.
"Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China," the ad says in reference to plans by the auto company to build a new production facility in China to sell vehicles in that country.
The ad is accurate but plays to misinformation that spread earlier this week — partly because Romney had previously voiced the claims — suggesting that Chrysler was planning to move production of all Jeeps to China. The automaker has strongly disputed those reports, though they could have an impact in battleground corners of Ohio like Toledo, a major hub for Jeep production in North America.
The governors of two other battleground states — John Hickenlooper (D) of Colorado and Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin — relied on more traditional fare to make the case for and against their candidates.
"What are those deductions and tax credits he's going to get rid of?" Hickenlooper asked of Romney's tax reform plan, seizing on the former Massachusetts governor's refusal to specify which loopholes and deductions he would eliminate to finance his proposed tax cuts.
And Walker, whose contentious collective bargaining reforms sparked a standoff with his state legislature and a recall election which he won, argued that Romney has a track record of working in a bipartisan manner.
"He's proven that he can do it in a state like Massachusetts," Walker said.
But neither Walker nor Hickenlooper seemed as confident as Kasich, who predicted that the fate of Ohio's electoral votes — and the election — would be known early on election night.
"I'm not sure the election's going to be as close as what everybody is talking about today," he said.
Just how much of a role would the government have played in supporting Chrysler and General Motors if Mitt Romney had been president?
As First Read reported yesterday, the former Massachusetts governor has worked to couch his opposition to President Barack Obama's decision to bail out the two car companies -- a decision which Romney, who was raised in Michigan, is being forced to confront heading into the state's Feb. 28 primary.
Democrats and the Obama campaign have made a big issue of Romney's 2008 op-ed in The New York Times entitled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," especially in light of the signs of encouragement in the auto industry since the bailout. He penned it just weeks after Obama secured the presidency.
The piece, published as the automakers were facing a major cash crunch, called for what he dubbed a “managed bankruptcy.” He said the car companies needed to restructure their labor agreements; replace each company's management and rid them of corporate perks; and increase government spending on alternative energy and fuel economy research, which would benefit the industry indirectly.
Of direct government assistance, Romney wrote: "The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk." He stated, declaratively, “Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.”
Since then, Romney has spoken publicly about the bailout, essentially trying to take ownership for the successes of the auto industry's turnaround while decrying Obama's management of the process. Romney argues that the administration basically ended embracing a variation of the strategy he originally advocated.
"The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business," Romney wrote Tuesday in The Detroit News. "The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama's management of the American economy are evident in what he did."
The separation between Romney and Obama on the issue of the bailout stems from two issues. First, Romney argues that interests of the labor unions were unfairly favored over some of GM and Chrysler's private creditors. The government-supervised bankruptcy did this, he argues, by allowing the autoworkers’ retirees program an equity stake in the restructured GM in exchange for providing financial support for the bankruptcy.
Second, Romney appears to differ with the president over the extent to which government itself should have stepped forward with money to help stave off liquidation of GM and Chrysler and provide for the restructuring process. The administration's approach did this in the case of GM by essentially establishing a new, restructured company in which the government became a majority shareholder. (Romney argued Tuesday for the government to divest itself from the company.)
Romney's position in the past has been that the private sector could have stepped forward to finance and more effectively manage the bankruptcy process -- especially in a way that would have treated private stakeholders in the companies more fairly.
But on the key question of whether the automakers could have managed themselves through a traditional bankruptcy without assistance from the government, Romney is wrong. The loans provided by Bush and then by Obama allowed the domestic auto industry to survive the darkest hour of its history and return to thriving operations today.
Critics also contend that Wall Street might not have been in the position to give that financial assistance to Detroit in 2009, as Lehman Brothers collapsed and global credit tightened.
But Romney appeared to add more uncertainty into his position surrounding the bailouts in an interview Wednesday on Detroit talk radio station WJR. Romney said that the government should have been available to step in and provide financing during a structured bankruptcy by way of a bridge loan -- the initial way in which the Bush administration propped up GM and Chrysler at the end of 2008.
They needed to go through bankruptcy, and if, as part of that process, they needed financial help to get out of bankruptcy -- a bridge loan, or guarantees on sales of cars and so forth -- I said the government should be there to provide that. But the point was they took the wrong process, they wasted a lot of money, and ended up giving the companies to the UAW.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Romney would have pursued the exact path as the Obama administration for restructuring GM and Chrysler, but it does indicate some willingness for a more expansive role for the government during bankruptcy. Spokesmen for the Romney campaign didn't immediately respond to an inquiry seeking clarification.
But in addressing some of the political flak he's taken over the bailout, Romney added on WJR: "I don't imagine that anyone could think I had any interest other than to see the companies to thrive and survive, and that's why the original op-ed piece I wrote describes what I thought was the best way to get that done."
Mitt Romney is working to stress his Michigan roots and empathy for the state's auto industry as part of a new offensive ahead of the Great Lake State's Feb. 28 primary.
In a new television ad and an op-ed Tuesday in the Detroit News, Romney reminded Michigan Republicans of his upbringing in the state, while working to better couch his opposition to the 2009 bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler engineered by President Obama.
"I grew up in Michigan; it was exciting to be here," Romney says in the ad, in which he appears driving a Chrysler 300. "Michigan's been my home; this is personal."
In the ad, Romney also addresses the federal bailout of the auto industry in broad terms, asking, "How in the world did an industry and its leaders and its unions get in such a fix," while accusing Obama of having done "all these things the liberals had wanted to do for years" without adding specifics.
Joshua Lott / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event in Mesa, Arizona February 13, 2012.
It's a sentiment echoed in Romney's piece in today's Detroit News, in which he expands on his opposition to the 2009 bailout.
The effort seems directed at softening some of the attacks directed at Romney by Democrats associated with the former Massachusetts governor's opposition to Obama's handling of the bailout, outlined famously in a New York Times op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
Obama and his campaign count the revivals for GM and Chrysler among the administration's greatest successes in its first term. Obama trumpeted Chrysler's early repaying of some bridge loans and improved balance sheets by both companies, although the government maintains a significant equity share in both automakers.
"Does anyone believe what Mitt says: that the American auto industry would be better off today if the president hadn't intervened in 2009?" Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod tweeted Tuesday morning.
Other Democratic surrogates attacked Romney for trying to soften or even reverse his position ahead of the primary.
"All of them are wrong," former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said of the GOP field during a DNC conference call Tuesday, "but for Romney in particular it shows that the man has no principles, no core."
"Remember, that was then and this is now. Then he said let them go into bankruptcy," said Michigan Rep. John Dingell, seizing on a portion in Romney's op-ed hailing GM and Chrysler's revival. "He is now finding that success is here, and he wants to rush out and claim success, and claim participation in that success."
Romney's opposition to the bailout does little to distinguish him from his competitors in the Republican primary in Michigan.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who's surged nationally versus Romney since scoring upset victories in a trio of nominating contests last week, appears poised to take a run at Romney on his home turf in Michigan. Santorum's on the air in the Wolverine State, and some automated polls (which aren't recognized by NBC News) suggest Santorum is within striking distance of victory in the Michigan primary, which Romney won during his presidential campaign of 2008.
Moreover, Santorum's position on the auto bailouts is virtually identical to Romney's. "I called for a structured bankruptcy from the very beginning," Santorum said in January on C-SPAN. "They could have gone through a structured bankruptcy. And the only difference between those two companies coming out of bankruptcy versus the bailouts Obama put in place was that the unions wouldn’t take ownership share of the company. The bondholders who were all in line under the rule of law should have gotten their fairer share of the company."
Romney has homed in now on the treatment of unions as a main point of criticism toward Obama's handling of the managed bankruptcy. Romney says the president had eventually pursued the managed bankruptcy option Romney had preferred, but did so in a way that unfairly advantaged the UAW and organized labor over Chrysler and GM's secured creditors -- most of which are located on Wall Street.
"While a lot of workers and investors got the short end of the stick, Obama's union allies — and his major campaign contributors — reaped reward upon reward, all on the taxpayer's dime," Romney wrote in the Detroit News piece, in which he calls for the government to sell off its shares of GM.
But Romney's new strides this week appear more directed at responding to attacks by Democrats, not his rivals in the presidential campaign. The bailout remains generally popular in Michigan, and even some congressional Republicans who represent the issue are on record in favor of the Obama administration's support for GM and Chrysler. Democrats' attacks are meant to saddle Romney in parts of the Midwest where the auto industry remains dominant, and drive up his negatives both for the Republican primary and the general election. (Obama led Romney, 48 to 40 percent, in a January 2012 EPIC/MRA poll of likely Michigan voters, erasing an advantage that Romney had held over the president in 2011 polls.)
Those efforts to define Romney might be aided by Romney's own history on the issue, now trying to largely take credit for the path the Obama adminstration pursued after having pleaded for Washington to ease the path for automakers during the 2008 GOP primary in Michigan.
"The question is, where is Washington?" Romney said during that campaign, according to an account by the New York Times, specifically decrying new fuel efficiency standards for Detroit's Big Three. "Where does it stop? Is there a point at which someone says 'enough'? Or are we going to allow the entire domestic automotive manufacturing industry to disappear?"