AVON LAKE, Ohio — In a sign of continued concern over the political impact of his opposition to the auto bailout, Mitt Romney is airing an ad that blames President Obama for sending auto companies into bankruptcy and erroneously implies that the president's actions prompted a car manufacturer to send jobs overseas.
Thousands of jobs in the upper Midwest were tied to the auto bailout — $80 billion in federal loans to GM and Chrysler — that many credit with saving the industry. For months Obama has hammered Romney for his opposition to the bailout.
Romney's new ad says that Obama caused Jeep's parent company — Chrysler — to be sold to an Italian company that plans to move Jeep production overseas. Though it is true that Chrysler may produce Jeeps in China under its Fiat owners, that represents an expansion for Chinese buyers; no American jobs are to be lost.
"Who will do more to support the auto industry? Not Barack Obama," the ad says. "Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry.
"Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job."
Chrysler weighed in to reassure Ohioans that no existing manufacturing is being moved out of state, and the Obama campaign denounced the ad throughout the day Monday.
"Now it turns out that Jeep is reopening in China because they made so much money here they can afford to do it and they are going on with their plans here," former President Clinton said at a rally in Youngstown. "They put out a statement today saying that it was the biggest load of bull in the world that they would consider shutting down their American operation."
The Obama campaign launched a competing ad noting Chrysler's statement and reminding voters that Romney opposed the bailout. Vice President Joe Biden called Romney's claims "bizarre."
"Ladies and gentlemen, have they no shame? I mean, what? Romney will say anything, absolutely anything to win, it seems," Biden said. "But he can't run from the truth."
The Romney campaign did not respond to questions about whether the China claim was misleading.
"It appears the Obama campaign is less concerned with engaging in a meaningful conversation about President Obama's failed policies and more concerned with arguing against facts about their record they dislike," said spokesman Ryan Williams. "The American people will see their desperate arguments for what they are."
The debate over the auto bailout is of prime importance in Ohio, where Obama has held a minimal lead in most polls that Romney is feverishly trying to surmount. Every winning Republican presidential candidate has carried the state, and losing it would make Romney's path to 270 electoral votes dramatically more difficult.
As election day nears, the Romney campaign is continuing to argue that Obama followed Romney's prescription to save the industry.
Obama and independent analysts say it was necessary to offer federal loans to the companies to get them through bankruptcy because at the time banks were no longer lending to struggling industries. (Because credit was frozen, Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, gave GM and Chrysler a bridge loan in December 2008.) The federal loans were offered and the companies are now profitable.
Romney opposed the federal bailout and instead favored private lending backed by loan guarantees. He also backed the companies' entrance into bankruptcy, although that is not mentioned in the ad or by his supporters.
"It was Barack Obama who took GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy. Right? Am I right? Second, it was Mitt Romney who actually did provide for loan guarantees to ensure that the warranties were backed up," Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said at a Romney rally in Avon Lake. "That's why every fact checker who's looked at what Barack Obama said, said that Barack Obama was wrong. He was not telling the truth."